'Hartford Courant' Columnist Claims Writing About Advertiser Led to Firing

By: Joe Strupp Did The Hartford (Conn.) Courant fire its consumer affairs columnist because he wrote a piece that questioned a top advertiser's practices? Several reports out of Connecticut indicate that is the story, including from the columnist's own Web site.

The Consumerist, a Web site devoted to consumer affairs issues and coverage reported Saturday that George Gombossy -- who had written the paper's "Watchdog" column for three years and had served 12 previous years as business editor -- was dropped for taking on Sleepy's, a mattress outlet apparently being investigated by state officials.

The Consumerist wrote: "The chain is accused of selling used mattresses as new, and -- even worse -- selling used mattresses infested with bedbugs as new. Ew. We're sorry to hear of yet another newspaper losing its consumer columnist, and are particularly annoyed (though not surprised) to hear of this collision of advertising and editorial."

Courant Director of Content Jeff Levine did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

In his final column on Sunday for the Courant, Gombossy did not mention why he was leaving or any flap over Sleepy's, instead choosing to point out two other issues he had uncovered in the past, adding: "It has been a tremendous honor working with all of you. You can be proud of what we accomplished."

But on his own Web site, Connecticut Watchdog, Gombossy gladly posts the controversial column, noting: "This was my column, as approved by my editor, that the Courant refused to publish about one of its biggest advertisers. It was scheduled to run on Aug. 2 but was held without an explanation. This was the first time in my 40 years at The Courant that an investigation by the attorney general was withheld from the public."

A memo
from Naedine Hazell, the Courant assistant managing editor for features and business, to the news staff Monday -- which was first posted on the Poynter.org Romenesko site -- defended the newspaper's actions.

It stated: "Our readers and advertisers do and should expect us to report stories we know are accurate and fully reported. Our advertisers have no influence on what we report, including stories that may include them."


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