Todd Arcelaschi, the mayor, was there, and so was Joshua Steele Kelly, the town manager. A seven-piece R&B jazz band kept the atmosphere lively. More than 100 guests had gathered in the American Museum of Tort Law in Winsted, Connecticut, to celebrate the launch of the Winsted Citizen for a community hungry for news. Winsted is also where Ralph Nader was born and delivered the local newspaper as a boy, and the Citizen is his gift to his hometown, which had become a news desert.
“The Winsted Journal folded in 2017, so we were without a newspaper. You can’t have a community without a newspaper. Studies show voting and social life decline, and fewer people attend town meetings. No one is holding the government accountable and supporting the business community with coverage of important events,” Nader said.
“I came to the conclusion there's no community in the country that can’t support a weekly newspaper. It’s just a lack of imagination and organization. It only takes a handful of people to make it happen.”
Nader asked Andy Thibault to become the editor and publisher. He is a veteran journalist and editor and held that position at various Connecticut newspapers, including The Hartford Courant. He also teaches Basic News Reporting/Writing, Investigative Reporting and Communication at the University of New Haven.
The first announcement about the Citizen stated it would publish a pilot issue first. However, the enthusiasm and positive response from the community prompted the paper to revise its plans. They’ve committed to a monthly edition throughout the remainder of 2023, then publishing weekly in 2024.
“On February 3rd, 1,000 copies of the inaugural issue of the Winsted Citizen were mailed by Trumbull Printing to households in our circulation area. The first 35 subscribers and all 192 Connecticut public libraries were included in the initial mailing. The Citizen is also available at multiple locations throughout the community. We now have almost 200 subscribers with an immediate goal of 1,000,” Thibault said. “We also had immediate interest from many local businesses to place ads in the first issue.”
“We have a big learning curve as we integrate ourselves with the community. We want to earn everyone's trust and respect. We’re extending our hand — ready to meet people and learn how we can serve them.”
Subscriptions and advertising are the immediate targets to generate revenue, but as a 501(c) 3 nonprofit, it will also explore resources available through grants and from foundations — a process that has already started.
Thibault, Managing Editor Melanie Ollett and a staff of respected and widely published reporters, photographers and contributors are reporting on important local news and events. Stories in the first issue highlighted the increase in water rates, the food co-op and its need for support, the possible purchase of a closed Methodist church, and the property’s redevelopment. There was also a roundup of all the local breweries and a special feature, “The Beer Whisperer,” with tips about how to enjoy a brewery visit.
The Citizen is also focused on local arts and cultural activities and the natural attractions and outdoor activities in the nearby Berkshire Mountains. “Weekend in Norfolk” was another feature article in the inaugural edition, with news and information about art, music, theater and dining.
Bob Sillick has held many senior positions and served a myriad of clients during his 47 years in marketing and advertising. He has been a freelance/contract content researcher, writer, editor and manager since 2010. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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This is really inspiring. Thank you, Ralph Nader. But the reality of running a good and worthy local newspaper remains a week-in, week-out slog, regardless of ownership (independent or group) or structure (non-profit or for-profit), and it is nearly impossible to sustain in the long run without truly creative approaches (new partnerships, new paths for original content, clear and sustained government support of a local/municipal news apparatus and absolute support of legal notices). Think of it. Success in media is about scale. (Massive scale, massive revenues.) But success in local news is about durable focus, clarity, and expertise on just a handful of markets that are (or should be) within reach of you and your readers. That's the opposite of scale. Strong newspapers build trust, community, and a sense of belonging. We all know the revenue model is broken. And my dearest hope is that enough local newspapers—especially rural ones—will survive to benefit from new, emerging models that promise actual sustainability.
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