NB Politicus

Tribute To Bart Fisher, the Herald’s Historian-In-Residence

Posted in Hard Hittin' New Britain, journalism, sports by nbpoliticus on January 27, 2013

Herald sportswriter Bart Fisher, who died last week at age 68, touched many, many people with his coverage of sports, “encyclopedic” knowledge of athletics and community and informative pieces about the city’s history.  Invariably a Bart Fisher column would reveal little known but important aspects of New Britain’s past that gave us a deeper understanding and appreciation of where we live.

Dennis Buden, a former Herald writer, gave one of the tributes to his mentor:

Bart’s Hardware City History column in The Herald offered a weekly chance for nostalgic readers like me to fondly recall the New Britain of a kinder, gentler time. His Around Town column highlighted the special people and places in our community, and always brought a smile. His reporting and countless columns as Herald sports editor, chronicling the exploits of New Britain’s athletes over the last 40 years, preserve a permanent and poetic record of New Britain lore as only Bart could tell it.

Link to tribute:

The New Britain Herald : New Britain, Conn., and surrounding areas (newbritainherald.com)

Community Journalism Gone Bad

Posted in Housing, journalism by nbpoliticus on January 27, 2013


The New Britain City Journal, once a promising venture in community journalism, has plunged into a tabloid gutter of innuendo, rumor and personal attack over the issue of regulating non-owner occupied housing and paying for code enforcement in the city.  

The City Journal, violating basic rules of journalism with all kinds of unsubstantiated accusations, has taken sides and cast its lot with out-of-town landlords, particularly their loudest voice,  New Yorker Sam Zherka, the owner of Farmington Hills apartments (formerly Ledgecrest Village) and publisher of The Westchester Guardian


Yellow Journalism In New Britain


Every week now scurrilous stories and anonymous advertising of questionable legality are hammering the O’Brien administration and members of the Common Council. 


The latest “news story” in the January 25th edition, offers readers a $25,000 reward for information leading to “the arrest and conviction” of Mayor O’Brien and Aide Phil Sherwood to “clean up city (sic) of a corrupt and dirty administration.”  The Journal, at Zherka’s behest, is relying on readers to come up with the “dirt and corruption” to bring down Mayor O’Brien. 


Wrote City Journal Editor and Publisher Robin Vinci: “Anyone who has any information is asked to send it to: The New Britain City Journal….and it will be forwarded to ‘Taxpayers and Associates affiliated with Farmington Hills.”  

The situation at the New Britain City Journal is akin to what occurred at Zherka’s Westchester paper in 2010.   
In his column, “The ‘Zherkus’ is back in town,” Phil Reisman of  The Gannett-owned Journal News wrote a story on the resignation of the Guardian’s editor in chief, Sam Abady: 

“The falling-out was caused by the Sept. 16 issue, which featured a cover story about Yonkers Mayor Phil Amicone titled,’Rumours (sic) Of Impending Indictment?’ The piece by Hezi Aris, who succeeded Abady as editor, is all over the map in its criticism of the Mayor, but it never says exactly why Amicone is supposedly in hot water. It is overwrought, rife with tortured metaphorical references to the battle of Gallipoli, Shakespeare and ‘Waiting for Godot’ — and thick with innuendo and winking, read-between the lines suggestions of criminality. Nothing is substantiated. But the most damning piece is that Aris all but admits he didn’t have the only metaphor that matters — the smoking gun. The self incriminating sentence is as follows: ‘The rumor mill has been spewing out tidbits of information accepted as ‘facts’ by some, yet is unsubstantiated to date.” 

In that 2010 column Reisman reported that Zherka, the organizer of a Tea Party demonstration in White Plains (confirming his right-wing, extremist views),  had won a 1st amendment lawsuit when the Yonkers Mayor overstepped his bounds during a longstanding feud and ordered removal of newspaper dispensing boxes.  

“Besides owning a topless bar in New York City and publishing a vanity newspaper filled with political conspiracy theories, Zherka is known for being a self-styled ‘player’ with a flare for attracting attention,” wrote Reisman, “Zherka is also notorious for filing lawsuits against public officials he believes have crossed him. There are many who fall into this category — and many have also been the subject of sensational attack stories in The Guardian since it was started in 2006.”


When the City Journal began in October 2009 it was the subject of a laudatory post by NB Politicus. Then known as the Hardware City Journal, the grassroots, free-circulation paper was praised on this blog:

New Britain’s “October surprise” has nothing to do with the upcoming municipal election and everything to do with what may be a revival of community journalism in town.
The first edition of Hardware City Journal (HCJ), a 16-page free circulation paper, began circulating Friday (Oct. 16th) packed full of local news and information. The paper, with only a handful of ads upon which free circulation newspapers usually depend, is similar in content and appearance to the Berlin Citizen weekly next door. The upstart HCJ appears to be the brainchild of Robin Vinci, a former Herald reporter who covered Berlin and a native of New Britain. Vinci’s love for her native city comes through in an opening letter on the editorial page. She is a journalist who knows the town she is writing about past and present, a factor which can count for a lot in delivering news you may not find elsewhere.


Robin Vinci denies that anything has changed at the City Journal or that it has become Sam Zherka’s “vanity newspaper” in New Britain.   She maintains the out-of-town landlord’s money and influence are not a part of her publication. It’s hard to believe, however, that print and online ads  in a 16 page tabloid alone are paying for mailings of the paper into 23,000 households and for the addition of  “writers” and ad reps who may be imported by Zherka himself.  


Whatever the Vinci-Zherka relationship,  the tone and content of Ms. Vinci’s stories over the past few months calls into question her credibility as a reporter.  Her tirades without facts about the O’Brien administration sound more like a propagandist  beholden to special interests, the Republican Party or both.  

The City Journal has  abandoned the mission that you can still find on its online masthead: We will not publish accusations or hurtful comments. We feel New Britain is a great city and want to focus on the brighter, positive aspects of it.”

This is not the same City Journal that won praise here three and a half years ago.  The promise of “honest, straight-forward reporting” has given way to the strident and sensational and an agenda that is not in the public interest.

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A Newspaper War in New Britain?

Posted in journalism by nbpoliticus on June 19, 2010

Two years ago New Britain was on the brink of losing its only daily newspaper, The New Britain Herald. The last days of print journalism in town appeared certain as the Courant steadily withdrew resources and the Herald’s parent, the Journal Register Company, was getting ready to lock the doors at One Herald Square for good.

But the Herald and its sister paper, The Bristol Press,  soldier on with Publisher Michael Schroeder having retained and recruited experienced editors and reporters.  Schroeder is also contending with  keeping  the hometown dailies going commercially despite a bad economy and the tendency of many post-Baby Boomers to get their information from everything but newsprint. Not so easy but the investment continues.

Out of nowhere the revival of The Herald has been followed over the last nine months by not one but two free community weeklies that can be found side by side each week in shops, bars and other establishments around town.

Make no mistake.  These free papers don’t represent a threat to the mainstream and commercial Herald that sells for 75 cents on the newstands and has an online edition. The freebies pursue advertising but appear to be no more than labors of love for now.

The Hardware City Journal (HCJ), launched last fall, has re-surfaced after a brief hiatus following the abrupt departure of the paper’s editor, Robin Vinci. Vinci,  an even-handed journalist who covered Berlin for the Herald, bolted to start a new paper, The New Britain City Journal (NBCJ), that replicates much of what Vinci was doing at HCJ.  A May 12th Herald story took note of Vinci’s exit from HCJ and plans for the City Journal.

With both now hitting the streets,  the June 18th issues of each free paper contain healthy doses of human interest and coverage of the budget woes and cuts on education from City Hall.  Neither paper betrays any editorial bent in favor or liberals or conservatives or Republicans and Democrats.  Not yet anyway.

The one difference appears to be that NBCJ  reveals more about who is behind the enterprise.  The Publisher is R2 Online Consignment with Vinci listed as the editor. The HCJ, while it has bylines with recognizable names (Editor: John O’Dell), says nothing about ownership or publisher and provides just  a P.O. box, phone number and e-mail in the editorial page box. The hand of Vinci in NBCJ shows a tighter and more professional approach than the HCJ, which inflates itself to 20  pages by including  almost a page of City Hall department number boilerplate on the inside and a full back page of Mayor Stewart’s budget veto message (insults and all) and his accompanying press release about why it’s necessary to spend more in the municipal budget but spend less for education than the Common Council plan.

There’s no clear word on what caused a splintering of the people who are gamely trying to make free community newspapers work in New Britain. Nick Paonessa, a past Republican candidate for several offices and as strongly opinionated a conservative as you can meet in New Britain, was involved in the HCJ with Vinci. He’s still about town delivering and talking up the HCJ, but still prefers to maintain the lowest of profiles, letting a staple of byliners take all the credit or responsibility for the Hardware City Journal.

Given the near death of the city’s daily in January 2009, it sounds improbable that New Britain residents are on the reading end of three different sources  of community news in 2010. But that’s what they’ll get as they pick up that quart of milk or lottery ticket at the corner store or go to the neighborhood tavern every week.

Let’s enjoy the competition while it lasts.

New Britain Weekly Is Reborn As "City Journal"

Posted in journalism by nbpoliticus on May 26, 2010





An upstart weekly community newspaper — started last fall as “The Hardware City Journal” — has given way to a new newspaper with the same editor and same approach to covering the community. Editor Robin Vinci, a veteran of reporting for the Herald, has re-started the weekly with the name New Britain City Journal. nbcityjournal.com

In putting out the Hardware City Journal from October through May, Vinci developed a good mix of news and features and saw a growth in advertising.  Her efforts have probably made the New Britain Herald more attentive to community coverage and added good information given the limits of resources at the hometown daily. The Journal is a vehicle for community journalism to survive as mainstream dailies and media have taken big hits in covering what is local and often most important to citizens in a democracy.

New Britain residents should hope that the City Journal succeeds with a commitment to report the news and not create it, and to provide a balanced perspective on issues and city politics.

To reach the City Journal you can call 860-505-7612 or e-mail newbritaincityjournal@yahoo.com. The address is PO Box 2111, New Britain, CT 06050

Luddites May Need To Unite To Save Newspaper Legal Notices For Now

Posted in journalism, Legislature by nbpoliticus on February 5, 2010

The economic plight of newspapers in the internet age will be up for debate in the 2010 session of the Connecticut General Assembly and intertwined with arguments about the public’s right to know.

Gov. Rell has called for ending the requirement that governments publish certain legal notices in newspapers, according to the New Britain Herald in a Feb. 5th story

For many citizens posting public notices and other information on the public business is sufficient on a town’s web site. It meets the public’s right to know more effectively and it saves publication costs at a time when government is looking to scrimp and save.

The newspaper industry, however, is mounting a counter argument that many among us are essentially Luddites when it comes to where we get information. A substantial portion of the citizenry, the industry says, relies on public notices in a linear way or we won’t get it at all.  That is a strong argument in New Britain where a good portion of the reading public is older and accustomed to newsprint over using  the mouse to click on http://www.new-britain.net/

It seems the intent of public notice laws (and publication requirements) are to make information as accessible to the widest possible audience members who need to hear it. In that sense, it may not be enough to simply post on a city or town website.  The argument for publication in a general circulation publication is that the wide audience will know it.  It would seem a legal notice posted in an online publication would have the same weight as the printed page but at rates that are probably lower than conventional display ads. What should be determine is the real dollar savings of cutting out print ads versus the need for a greater portion of the public to be informed.  One possible compromise to the legislation — if it is not already there — would be to make the policy a local option law for each city and town to decide on its own.

The issue of printed legal notices is akin to newspaper classifieds which were once a cash cow for newspapers.  The internet is simply an easier way for renting, selling and all kinds of individual transactions that makes classifieds in newspapers dinosaurs. The newspaper business simply needs to come up with an economic model where more revenue comes out of information technology instead of the presses.

Having said all that here’s a Luddite vote to keep printing those notices for now but not much longer.

New Britain’s Newest Newspaper: Hardware City Journal Hits The Streets

Posted in journalism by nbpoliticus on October 17, 2009

New Britain’s “October surprise” has nothing to do with the upcoming municipal election and everything to do with what may be a revival of community journalism in town.

The first edition of Hardware City Journal (HCJ), a 16-page free circulation paper, began circulating Friday (Oct. 16th) packed full of local news and information. The paper, with only a handful of ads upon which free circulation newspapers usually depend, is similar in content and appearance to the Berlin Citizen weekly next door. The upstart HCJ appears to be the brainchild of Robin Vinci, a former Herald reporter who covered Berlin and a native of New Britain. Vinci’s love for her native city comes through in an opening letter on the editorial page. She is a journalist who knows the town she is writing about past and present, a factor which can count for a lot in delivering news you may not find elsewhere.

The front page includes a report on using smaller learning communities (SLCs) and academies in public schools to improve student achievement. The potential of SLCs is all the more relevant because New Britain High School is the largest in the state. There’s also an in-depth story on the rise and fall of manufacturing in the city and the prospects for a town that still clings to a “hardware” image and retains a manufacturing base in need of rejuvenation for the 21st century global economy.

The HCJ mission promises readers a paper that will:

bring an accurate, honest and fair account of all aspects of New Britain. Our sole agenda is to bring residents a greater insight into the city. We will not run away from reporting on controversial news stories, but our goal is to report it and not create controversy.

The emergence of HCJ along with the revival of locally published New Britain Herald — rescued from the plundering Journal Register company — is a welcome sign that residents will have more than one source of local news to become more engaged in their community.

The development of the Journal is taking shape in print only at this time. You won’t find it yet in cyberspace. In a city where many older residents like to get their news the old-fashioned way, a strategy of building a free circulation print paper and worrying about technology later just may work.

A shout out goes to Robin Vinci. No amount of blogs and blogging, including this one, can take the place of a community newspaper.

Courant Drops Gombossy and Its Editorial Integrity

Posted in journalism by nbpoliticus on August 19, 2009

Achieving distinction for editorial page leadership and substantial news presentation were the Providence Journal and Bulletin and the Hartford Courant…..The Hartford Courant, begun as the weekly Connecticut Courant in 1764 and claimant to the longest publishing record in America, was kept at a high level by publisher John B.Reitemeyer and editor Herbert Brucker.

from author Edwin Emery’s The Press and America, 2nd edition. Prentice -Hall Journalism Series, 1954, 1962. p. 749.

This month the bygone publisher and editor of the Courant mentioned in my old journalism school textbook are probably rolling over in their graves.

The abrupt dismissal of Courant consumer reporter George Gombossy leaves little doubt that the journalistic credibility of a newspaper that occupies such an important place in U.S. history is permanently damaged. Permanent means forever. But the tag may stick as long as the bankrupt Tribune company and current management run things over on Broad Street.

Gombossy, a 40-year employee and former business page editor, filed a story in early August about alleged sleazy sales by Sleepy’s, the big mattress seller, that are being investigated by Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. Sleepy’s is a big advertiser and the decision to hold the story has a journalistic mortal sin all over it.

Gombossy’s fate, however, is getting plenty of play in the blogosphere and drew New York Times’ coverage that must be giving Courant management and Sleepy’s all the damage control they can handle.

Gombossy is talking to a lawyer and, with the help of former Courant staffers, has a first rate consumer web site up and running (www.ctwatchdog.com) complete with the story that was held up.

And looking ahead The Courant faces a difficult challenge to restore journalistic integrity in its greatly diminished “news presentation” as another of its seasoned and respected journalists departs.

The Courant: Then and Now

Posted in city politics and government, journalism by nbpoliticus on March 2, 2009

I had the privilege of raising money for Hartford’s Camp Courant back in the early 1990s. For one year I walked to a small cubicle assigned me in advertising at the newspaper’s 285 Broad Street offices to seek support for the century-old free day camp serving thousands of Hartford’s 5-12 year olds. Every day I would go down a corridor passing stacks and stacks of the newspapers left for easy reference — an experience akin to a kid in a candy store for someone like me whose first job out of journalism school was covering city hall, state government and anything else newsworthy for a weekly paper. In the early 1990s the Courant didn’t publish just one or two editions, but more than 10 different “zoned” editions. Bureaus from the Shoreline to the Northwest hills were plentiful and the “oldest continuously published newspaper” in the country probably had three or four times the number of people in editorial and news than is the case now. Before online news took hold, CT’s biggest daily offered a news digest every day at 3 p.m. faxed on one sheet to subscribers who wanted tomorrow’s headline and stories a day early. I remember senior managers saying that lay offs just didn’t happen at a paper that was so dominant in its circulation area.

All of this is a sentimental way of saying that things have changed drastically for our metropolitan newspaper of record. Until a few years ago, even as the internet became pervasive ,the Courant was a public utility for news and commerce that thoroughly “penetrated” the marketplace of ideas and business.

The business models of the linear age and the increasing concentration of newspapers into a few corporate hands are decimating what’s left of newsrooms — last week’s Courant layoffs of State House reporter Mark Pazniokas and others being the latest blow to good reporting and decent coverage in the capital city. You would think the Courant would want to sell off some physical assets, or rent some of the empty cubicles on Broad Street to maintain that kind of experience and talent, if only for a while longer.

Here in New Britain the dismantling of the metropolitan newspaper is complete. The bureau and home to a string of good journalists through the years (Lisa Chedekel, Joanne Klimkiewicz, Mike McIntire to name a few) on South Street quietly closed, consolidated to a regional Middletown office. Gone is the coverage of important City Council meetings and other government actions on a regular basis. The reporters who are left are gamely covering many more towns and doing what they can to deliver the news regionally and with less space in the print edition.

To some extent the revival of The Herald and its new local ownership has abated a total news blackout of what’s happening in politics and government.

And there is still the largely untapped potential of local journalism to define itself in cyberspace: “The ease of blogging and exchanges of opinions online are addressing some gaps in the greatly diminished coverage of the dailies. It’s also true that there is infinitely more news and opinion available globally for any interested reader,” a recent blog noted about saving the hometown dailies.

But the situation remains difficult for an effective “Fourth Estate” locally and regionally. The further erosion of reporting and coverage by the Courant is a painful reminder that a void in how we keep the politicians honest and stay informed will get worse before it gets better.

(You can make a donation to Camp Courant at the above referenced website. It’s a nonprofit bearing the newspaper’s name that is a very worthy cause in Hartford)

Hello Sweet Heart, Get Me Re-Write: Herald, Press Survive

Posted in economic development, journalism by nbpoliticus on January 25, 2009


The New Britain Herald and Bristol Press, left to die by the parent Journal Register Company (JRC) late in 2008, will survive.

Today’s Herald story by Scott Whipple confirmed that Michael Schroeder, a veteran newspaper exec from Newsday, has made good on his promise to be the white knight entrepreneur for the two local dailies and three weeklies in central Connecticut.

[Photo credit: Movie poster The Front Page (1974)]

Schroeder is the president, publisher and chief executive of the group [Central Connecticut Communications], and will manage all operations from the newspapers’ offices in New Britain and Bristol. The daily papers will continue to publish seven days a week, and the weeklies will appear Fridays.

“This has been an exciting process, getting to know the staff and the people around New Britain and Bristol,” Schroeder said. “We will be building on a great paper, with a team that is ready to move forward and not look back.”

Jeff Pijanowski, a longtime colleague of Schroeder at Newsday who now writes his own blog, leaves little doubt that the new publisher has journalism in his blood and may be in this for more than the money: “He’s one of the top journalists I have ever met. He brings a level of excitement in the newsroom few other executives can. He’s not afraid to take risks when necessary, he’ll roll up his sleeves with his staff, and he certainly can breathe life into a news organization that was close to shutting its doors.”
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As doubtful as it appeared in our earlier posts here of November 27 and December 31, a best case scenario has emerged for the hometown dailies — a publisher committed to keeping two institutions of commerce and coverage alive and adaptable to new kinds of news delivery in print and on line.

This happy ending wouldn’t be complete without citing the alarm bells first raised by State Rep. Tim O’Brien (D-24) about the loss of the daily papers in central Connecticut. O’Brien, soon joined by other legislators and the mayors of New Britain and Bristol, wrote to the state Department of Economic Development (DECD) asking for its assistance in finding a buyer. Contrary to some misguided commentary that the lawmakers were looking for a bailout that would lead to government control of newsrooms, this was a case of elected leaders looking out for the well being of their communities and advocating for preservation of fourth estate that is indispensable in a democracy. It’s not clear whether the state DECD will be offering specific assistance to the local newspapers via small business loans or other incentives. But the enterprise should receive the same concern that any other business would in the effort to save jobs and promote commerce in the region.

The ruckus raised by O’Brien and other public officials was certainly loud enough to be heard by Schroeder, leading to this week’s improbable rebirth of the dailies.

Push To Save Herald, Press Sparks Debate In National Media

Posted in economic development, journalism by nbpoliticus on January 1, 2009


The push by local legislators, as mentioned in November 28’s post, to involve the Department of Economic Development (DECD) in efforts to save The Herald of New Britain and the Bristol Press is drawing national media attention.

A Reuters story posted at The Huffington Post focuses on questions of a free press and the potential conflicts that would arise if newspapers got government “bailouts” or other forms of assistance.

The coverage is being driven by a mistaken notion advanced in some reports (including those by Courant columnists Stan Simpson and Kevin Rennie) that the proposal would give the newspapers a handout or “bailout” in the face of falling revenues and readership.

That wasn’t the case at all when State Rep. Tim O’Brien (D-24) first asked economic development officials to lend a hand in finding a buyer or potential investors to replace the absentee and failed ownership of The Journal Register Company. The state DECD Commissioner, Joan McDonald, said as much in noting that the push by local elected officials has drawn up to five potential buyers who would take advantage of incentives that her department could provide.

In the Reuters analysis, writer Robert MacMillan notes that legislators, who this week were joined by the Mayors of New Britain and Bristol, sought state intervention to find a way to save these hometown dailies, both of which have a long tradition as the local commercial dailies in once thriving factory towns.

MacMillan, quoting journalism professors and experts, frames the issue in terms of the conflicts that would ensue with state assistance for a newspaper:

To some experts, that sounds like a bailout, a word that resurfaced this year after the U.S. government agreed to give hundreds of billions of dollars to the automobile and financial sectors.

Relying on government help raises ethical questions for the press, whose traditional role has been to operate free from government influence as it tries to hold politicians accountable to the people who elected them. Even some publishers desperate for help are wary of this route.

Providing government support can muddy that mission, said Paul Janensch, a journalism professor at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, and a former reporter and editor.

The Reuters story correctly points out that the separation of the press and government is just as important in a democracy as the separation of church and state.

That separation, however, would not be jeopardized at all if a buyer is found for the Herald or Press, or both, and the newspapers survive via the public sector incentives that DECD would provide.

Whether DECD incentives were part of the sale or not, the assumption that newsrooms would be compromised in New Britain and Bristol is based on unfounded speculation by those journalists and academics who are calling these efforts by DECD a “bailout.”

With the Herald due to close January 12th, it is the longest of long shots to assume a deal will come together in time to save it. Some other form or forms of journalism need to emerge to keep the fourth estate alive locally. The best scenario is that a community newspaper (using both print and the internet) be locally owned and self-sustaining, not another absentee owner seeking to plunder these local papers as the Journal Register company has done.