Courant Lays Off Top Reporters

by Paul Bass | February 25, 2009 12:29 PM | | Comments (16)

mark%20pazniokas.png(Updated 2:45 p.m.) Connecticut’s “oldest continually published daily newspaper” (for now) axed its D.C. bureau, half of its remaining two-person state Capitol staff, and its environmental reporter as part of what one veteran dubbed “The Mardi Gras Massacre.”

Those were among the casualties of the latest wave of layoffs at the Hartford Courant.

Mark Pazniokas (top picture), one of two reporters based at the state Capitol, has worked at the paper for 24 years and was its senior political correspondent. Dave Funkhouser held down the environmental beat.

Jesse%20Hamilton.pngJesse Hamilton (pictured) was the last reporter based in the paper’s D.C. bureau.

They and other reporters were notified of their layoffs in phone calls Tuesday night. They will receive one week’s severance for every year worked, plus an extra week.

Chicago-based Tribune Co., which owns the paper, has been gradually thinning its staff and its page count in the wake of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing. It is one of two corporate newspaper owners in the area that recently filed for Chapter 11 protection. The other is the Journal Register Co., which owns the New Haven Register.

A total of 100 employees got laid off. Thirty of them are reporters and editors — bringing the editorial staff to 135, half its estimated level at the end of 2007.

Cuts are also expected at the New Haven and Hartford Advocates, also owned by Tribune, according to a notice the Courant posted on its website Wednesday afternoon.

Last June the company cut 57 positions and shrank its weekly number of news pages from 273 to 206.

The latest wave of layoffs had been expected at the Courant. The only question was who would be the latest targets and precise numbers. About 30-35 positions were expected to be eliminated out of the 170-member news staff.

Pazniokas’ layoff was a particular surprise since one line of thought was, that as the Courant shrinks its coverage in the wake of hard economic times, it would concentrate its competitive strength — namely, its experienced, knowledgeable coverage of state government and politics.

On her Laurel Club blog, Duby McDowell’ identifies
rest of the roster of laid-off reporters, including “Religion Reporter Elizabeth Hamilton, Business Reporter Robin Stansbury, … Steve Grant and Anna Marie Somma, sportswriter Matt Eagan, itowns editor Loretta Waldman, itowns reporter Nancy Lastrina, administrative assistant Judy Prato, Marge Ruschau, Features copy editors Adele Angle and David Wakefield, and library staffer & researcher Owen Walker.”

“We’re told that editor/reporter Kate Farrish resigned earlier this week as did editor John Ferraro,” McDowell wrote.

One job was saved mid-Wednesday: General assignment reporter Jesse Leavenworth was laid off Tuesday night. But then an editor came forward Wednesday to take a layoff instead, saving Leavenworth’s job.

On his personal blog, Courant veteran Courant writer Denis Horgan dubbed the layoffs “The Mardi Gras Massacre.” He described management’s decision to announce in advance that cuts were coming without identifying the targets “loathsome and mean-spirited and casually cruel.”

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Posted by: Matt Browner Hamlin | February 25, 2009 12:22 PM

This is really devastating news.

Posted by: Steve Collins | February 25, 2009 1:08 PM

I feel absolutely sick reading this. My heart goes out to some great, great reporters who deserved better.

Posted by: jawbone | February 25, 2009 1:34 PM

Rhetorical question. Is it better to just get it over with and shut the paper(s) down? Or, should we all be forced to sit here and watch the slow, painful death of the american print newspaper industry?
At some point in the future, a threshold will be crossed where it just doesn't make sense to continuing to publish papers that contain nothing but A.P. wire content, supermarket ads, and our recommended daily doseage of murder and mayhem.

Posted by: Ken Haynam | February 25, 2009 1:38 PM

I feel like I've had a death in the family. Best wishes to these guardians of our democracy.

Posted by: Shonu Gandhi | February 25, 2009 2:01 PM

This is terrible news. When I think of the phrase "good journalist," Mark Pazniokas is one of the first faces that pops up. He is fair, honest, and incredibly intelligent, in addition to being a kind, decent and great person. What a loss for all of Connecticut.

Posted by: Paul Wessel | February 25, 2009 3:04 PM

This makes my (voluntary) subscription to the New Haven Independent even more important! I need to know that there is somewhere I can go to get in-depth, local news. I don't always agree with the positions taken here - Paul Bass' rant in his v-log last Friday was a little over the top - but I am certain to be informed. Y'all, if you haven't subscribed yet, click the donate button at the top of the page and ante up. If enough of us vote with our wallets, maybe we'll start seeing Mark Pazniokas' byline here.

Posted by: lance | February 25, 2009 4:35 PM

the courant was in the tank for obama. a lot of good it did these guys.

Posted by: Hood Rebel | February 25, 2009 5:15 PM

I feel bad for those who have been notified, but worse for those still left behind, trying to get work done but anxiously waiting for the other shoe to drop--unexpectedly.

Posted by: All RISE | February 25, 2009 6:19 PM

Pretty soon, the Independent will be able to buy both the Courant and the Ragister. Whoever would thunk? I knew the Courant was going into the crapper when they laid off Reader Rep Karen Hunter last year. She was simpley marvelous. This is terrible news for us veteran newspaper readers.

Posted by: Alyssa | February 25, 2009 7:41 PM

Always count on you to have the insider poop -- thanks much for laying out this information so clearly. Some of these writers are gifted -- but had the wrong beat. Writers need to produce, produce, produce . . . . with many of these staffers, that wasn't happening. Don't agree at all with getting rid of the D.C. position -- especially since we have such senior pols in the news, who are often embarassing our state in some such manner. . . . again, thanks for the coverage.

Posted by: Joe | February 26, 2009 3:42 AM

Welcome to the age of citizen journalism, thanks to cheap internet access and free web tools print papers are essentially doomed. Profitable journalism jobs are also doomed.

I actually don't think this is a bad thing since I happen to find most profesional journalists to be arrogant and long winded. They also simply look for the story not the truth.

Now you will get a lot of this with blogs but since no one is getting a ton of money to post on them usually the bs factor is lower.

Posted by: Steve Collins | February 26, 2009 2:13 PM

The BS factor on blogs is lower? Do you actually read any? Most are nothing but BS.

Posted by: ttagaris | February 26, 2009 3:20 PM

What Shonu said:

"When I think of the phrase "good journalist," Mark Pazniokas is one of the first faces that pops up. He is fair, honest, and incredibly intelligent, in addition to being a kind, decent and great person. What a loss for all of Connecticut."


Posted by: Tom Morrissey, Jr. | February 27, 2009 2:43 PM

Removal of Courant reporters who represented the best of investigative coverage leaves a significant void at a perilous period of history. The revolutionary soul of Thomas Paine might be heard saying re-establish pamphlets on "Common Sense" with the faith that the peole will understand and react when critically honest insight is offered such as in the New Haven Independent.

Posted by: johnny | February 27, 2009 5:50 PM

The contention that "Tribune Co. has been gradually thinning its staff and its page count in the wake of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing" is misleading. Tribune had been eliminating jobs for as long as it owned The Courant, beginning years before its late-2008 bankruptcy filing. The pace has simply quickened since Sam Zell took the company private via massive debt obligations Tribune can no longer meet.

Posted by: wticfreak | February 28, 2009 6:35 AM

Today is the first day of the rest of the century! And at midnight it's Leap Year!

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