At 88, Ralph Nader believes his neighbors in northwestern Connecticut are tired of electronics and don’t forget the feeling of having a newspaper to read about their town.
So at a time when local newspapers are dying at an alarming rate, the longtime activist is helping to give birth to one.
Copies of the first edition of the Winsted Citizen circulate around this old New England mill town, with stories of a newly opened food co-op, delayed services after a Methodist church closed and repairs to a century-old bridge. are
LEE IACOCCA’S copy of RALPH NADER’s “Insecure at Any Speed” was found at a used bookstore for $5.
“If it works, it will be a good model for the rest of the country,” said Nader, who as a young man delivered a longtime Winsted Daily paper in his hometown. He now splits his time between Winstead and Washington, DC.
The last weekly newspaper locally, the Winsted Journal, started in 1996 before closing in 2017, unable to make enough money to support itself.
A town of about 8,000, Winsted has seen better days. Locals still talk about the 1955 hurricane that wiped out much of Main Street and killed a major employer, the Gilbert Clock Company. Winsted is surrounded by several better smaller communities, including Litchfield County is a popular second home destination for city dwellers, and the Winsted Citizen will have them covered, too.
Since the Journal closed, people have lost touch with what’s going on in local government and the news that makes a community — who’s getting engaged, who’s given birth, Nader said.
“After a while it all adds up and you start to lose track of the history,” he said. “Every year you don’t have a newspaper, you lose touch with it.”
Nader invested $15,000 and hired Andy Thibault, a veteran journalist from Connecticut, to launch Citizen. The masthead lists 17 reporters. “When they write a story, they get paid,” Thibault said.
Motto: “This is your paper. We work for you.”
The Citizen plans to publish monthly until next January, when it will become a weekly, Thibault said. He plans to keep the paper afloat through advertising, donations and subscriptions — $25 for the rest of 2023, and $95 thereafter.
Nader is full of suggestions but not intrusive, Thibault said. He said that a consumer activist and a four-time presidential candidate does not dictate a political stance.
Thibault has used his connections to form a solid bench of contributors, including longtime Hartford Courant editorial cartoonist Bob Englehart. The first issue included a long profile of a successful local basketball coach and a story about a project to paint a five-story mural in two abandoned mill buildings.
Winstead has been portrayed as a news deserter, which has impressed some. Bruno Matrazzo Jr., a reporter for the nearby Republican American in Waterbury, taunted Nader with tweeted reminders that the daily newspaper regularly covers Winstead. Waterbury is about 28 miles (45 km) from Winsted.
“It’s different when a town has its own newspaper than when you have daily coverage,” said Janet Manko, editor-in-chief and editor-in-chief of another Connecticut weekly, the Lakeville Journal, which had also previously published the Winsted Journal. Close. The failure, he said, was not because Winstead didn’t deserve the paper.
The Journal is among an estimated 2,500 newspapers that have closed in the United States since 2005, all but about 100 non-journals, according to a report released last year by the Northwestern/Middle Local News Initiative. .
So Nader is clearly bucking a trend and should be applauded, said Penelope Muse Abernathy, who reports for “The State of Local News.”
“It’s going to turn heads because it’s Ralph Nader,” he said.
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But maybe he won’t be as lonely as he seems. Abernathy said he’s been getting a lot of calls lately for advice from people wanting to open newspapers. The cautious approach used by Citizen — monthly issues before becoming weekly — has been used by others, he said. There is a great recognition of the need for a smart business plan, rather than just a passion project.
Given Nader’s romance with print, it’s a bit odd that the lead story in the inaugural edition of the Citizen talks to young Winsted residents about how they get most of their news from social media. Thibault said he plans to build an online presence.
“I love print,” said Terry Cowgle, a columnist for the website CTNewsJunkie.com. “I still like to hold a print newspaper in my hand. I’m 65 years old. Most people under 50, certainly under 40, have hardly ever held a newspaper in their hand.”
He’s rooting for the Citizens, though. Cowgill said he suspects Citizen’s best chance for long-term success is if Nader can trade his celebrity for foundation grants.
Volunteers came out on a grueling day last week to deliver copies of the 12-page first issue. One woman, Ruthie Ursone Napoleon, stopped a delivery car to ask for more copies. His father died in the first issue, his nephew was referenced in another story, and his workplace was featured in the third.
He hugged the man who gave him the extra papers.
“I wish my father could read this,” said Napoleon.
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