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Printing Farmed out, Now Courant’s Whole Hartford Footprint Is Virtual…

Return to Sender, no Courant forwarding address. (via Google Street View)

Not two months after announcing the idling of its presses and outsourcing printing to Springfield, the Hartford Courant is closing its offices in the world’s insurance capital. The paper’s Hartford offices will close on December 27 which its parent company called a COVID-era real estate decision. Most employees have been working remotely since March, but losing the physical newsroom is another blow to the paper.

The Courant is not the only publication to have essentially voided its physical newsroom during the pandemic. The New York Daily News and Boston Herald no longer appear to have real newsrooms (though the Herald may be bunking with The Sun in Lowell). Tribune, the Daily News and the Courant’s owner, have closed other newsrooms with no clear plans for new ones.

Except for occasional visit when Wi-Fi or electricity got wonky at home, Courant employees have not been in the office. In a statement from spokesperson Max Reinsdorf, Tribune said it did not anticipate bringing employees back to offices who can work remotely this year or for some time into 2021.

“With no clear path forward in terms of returning to work, and as the company evaluates its real estate needs in light of health and economic conditions brought about by the pandemic, we have made the difficult decision to permanently close the Hartford Courant office at 285 Broad Street in Hartford as of Dec. 27, 2020,” the statement said.

It was not immediately clear whether, post-press closure, the Courant will have any employees who cannot work remotely.

The paper’s union, the Courant Guild, called the newsroom “the heart of the newspaper.” It blasted the move as another “slap in the face” to the union and the community the paper serves.

“The closure is further evidence that Tribune Publishing, and vulture hedge fund Alden Global Capital, care only about profits, not about the newspapers they own or the communities they serve,” the Guild said.

In October, Tribune announced the Courant’s printing plant would close. The newspaper would instead print its dead tree edition in Springfield on The Republican’s presses. The move cost over 100 jobs and echoed one the Northampton-based Daily Hampshire Gazette undertook in the summer.

When Tribune closed the Courant‘s printing plant, it did not answer questions about the fate of its building. The paper had been at 285 Broad Street, adjacent to the Connecticut Capitol, since 1950.

When Tribune split into separate broadcasting and publishing companies, the latter kept the building where WTIC-TV still lives. Twin Lakes Holdings now owns the structure and leased space to the Courant.

In addition to union condemnation, Connecticut officials including Congressman John Larson and US Senator Richard Blumenthal panned the closure.

In a statement also posted to Twitter, Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin was grateful that the Courant remained in operations. Yet, he lamented the closure of its physical space and echoed the Guild’s concerns about its owners priorities.

“Robust and trusted local journalism is critical for the health of local democracy, government and community, and as more and more papers get acquired by hedge funds focused on the bottom line, we should all worry deeply about the relentless pressures and constant chipping away at the resources of dedicated to local news,” he said.

Courant publisher Andrew Julien told staff in an email that the decision was “about real estate needs amid a difficult and challenging time on both the public health and economic fronts.”

“It won’t change the essence of what we do: Delivering the high-impact journalism readers have come to expect from the Courant and crafting creative solutions that meet the needs of our advertising partners,” his email continued.

(via Twitter/@CourantGuild)

The Guild, which has supported efforts to identify a community-minded local buyer for the Courant, was unconvinced. It referenced Alden Capital, a hedge fund accused of cutting papers it owns directly like the Boston Herald and Denver Post to the bone, which owns shares in Tribune. While Tribune’s own checkered 21st century has long worried staff, Alden’s encroachment has raised further alarm.

“The Courant staff have worked throughout the pandemic and for centuries before that to provide Connecticut residents with the best possible news coverage. We want that legacy to continue for centuries more,” the Guild said.

The Courant identifies itself as the oldest continuously published paper in the United States.

“But under Tribune Publishing’s ownership, that future is threatened, as the company clearly demonstrated with Friday’s announcement,” the Guild statement continued.

In an interview, Emily Brindley, a Guild union officer and a Courant reporter, emphasized this as well.

“This really shows us once again that our parent company does not have our newspaper’s interest at heart or our community’s interest at heart,” she said.

No local buyer has emerged, though Tribune has been willing to sell its publications. In 2018, it sold the Los Angeles Times to local civic-minded deep pockets. Springfield media watchers have suspected Advance Publications, which owns The Republican, is eyeing possible acquisition like the Courant. Advance did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Brindley observed that her colleagues appreciated the need to operate remotely now. However, understanding the situation as temporary helped staff power through the challenges remoteness has presented.

“It does make everything more difficult. We can get our work done remotely,” she said. “It’s just not as easy to communicate, especially when you’re collaborating on a project or a story. “

Now that Tribune is closing their office—Courant employees must recover their belongings by December 23—with no promise of a new workspace, there is a concern about the long-term impact.

“It feels really different knowing that there is no end to working remotely,” she explained.

In its statement, Tribune did not shut the window on finding a new office in/around Hartford. However, it only assured it was “constantly reevaluating its real estate needs.”

“As we progress through the pandemic and as needs change, we will reconsider our need for physical offices,” Tribune said. “We will keep employees informed of decisions as they are made.”

Perhaps with more than two weeks’ notice.