AP Covers Case of Claim By 'Courant' Columnist About Retaliatory Firing

By: Less than a year after Tribune Co. launched an innovative plan to combine the newsrooms of The Hartford Courant and a local TV station, a columnist is alleging that the new management forced him out because he wrote unflattering news about a Courant advertiser.

George Gombossy created his own Web site, http://www.ctwatchdog.com, where he published the column critical of the advertiser, mattress vendor Sleepy's Inc. He also blasted the Courant for holding the column and forcing his departure.

Gombossy, a former Courant business editor who worked for the newspaper for 40 years, said in an interview that the Courant's senior vice president, Jeff Levine, and Publisher Richard Graziano are "destroying the Courant instead of saving it."

Graziano had been general manager of Tribune's WTIC-TV and WTXX-TV in Connecticut when he was given the additional role of Courant publisher in March. He hired Levine, a former marketing executive, to oversee news operations for the Courant and WTIC-TV.

"If I'm the only person in a position to stop them, I'm going to try to stop them and return the Courant to its position for the readers," Gombossy said.

Graziano did not return calls seeking comment. Levine said in an interview that advertisers have no effect on what the newspaper and WTIC report. He said he could not comment about the Sleepy's story or any conversations he had with Gombossy, citing possible litigation by the former reporter.

In a written statement, the company said Gombossy's job was eliminated and that he didn't apply for a new position as a consumer columnist who would work for the Courant, WTIC and the company's Web sites. The Courant said Gombossy's column on Sleepy's could still run in the newspaper but is receiving "additional checking and verification."


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