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From left, Advertising Director Rosemary Scanlon,  Associate Editor Melanie Ollett and founding editor and publisher Andy Thibault  at the Tuesday, Jan. 24, launch of the Winsted Citizen in Winsted. Photo by Terry Cowgill

Nader backs new Winsted paper

WINSTED — Can a start-up, print-focused, monthly newspaper make a go of it in a rising former mill town that is still emerging from years of mismanagement and strife? If the 100 people who turned out at the launch of the Winsted Citizen on Tuesday night, Jan. 24, is any indication, enough citizen support is there to make it a success.

Armed with a catchy motto, founding editor and publisher Andy Thibault, a veteran Connecticut reporter, editor and journalism instructor at the University of New Haven, made the case that Winsted has needed a newspaper to call its own ever since the Winsted Journal, which was published by the Lakeville Journal Company, was closed in 2017 for lack of support from the community. Its predecessor, the Winsted Voice, closed about 20 years ago. The Winsted Phoenix, a mostly online venture led by former Winsted Journal editor Shaw Israel Izikson, was short-lived.

“We’re not kidding when we say, ‘If it’s important to you, it’s important to us,’” Thibault said. A secondary Citizen motto, “all the news that fits, we print,” is a sendup of the famous New York Times top-of-the-front-page maxim, “All the news that’s fit to print.”

Thibault said he and his staff want to hear from future readers about what kinds of coverage they would like to read. The paper will cover Winsted and surrounding towns. The first edition of the Citizen will be on the stands this week and will be mailed out to subscribers. 

Meanwhile, subscription information can be found at the Citizen’s newly launched website at winstedcitizen.org. Updates can also be found at the Citizen’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. The paper was initially touted as a weekly, but will publish monthly with more frequent editions possible if the support is there from the community. It will be printed in Fairfield County at Trumbull Printing, Thibault said.

The project is backed by legendary lawyer, consumer advocate and Winsted native Ralph Nader. The rollout event for the Citizen was held in Nader’s National Museum of Tort Law, a shrine to lawsuits that Nader opened in a former Main Street bank building eight years ago. 

Nader did not attend the event, but the museum’s director, Melissa Bird, a former real estate agent and one-time member of the Winchester/Winsted Board of Selectmen, spoke of countering the decline of newspapers.

A “State of Local News” report last year by Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism found that the United States is losing, on average, two weekly newspapers per week. Bird cited another study that predicted the United States will lose one-third of its current newspapers by 2025. She described Nader as “very deeply invested in having a local newspaper.”

“It’s his belief that the community newspaper acts as a connector, keeping the town informed on elected officials’ meetings, local acts of heroism and the day-to-day news affecting its citizens,” Bird said.

In an interview with the Hartford Business Journal earlier this month, Nader described Winsted and its surrounding towns as a “news vacuum.” However, the Republican-American newspaper in Waterbury has had a full-time correspondent based in Winsted since at least 2009 and another full-time reporter covering the courts in Torrington. The Waterbury paper also provides extensive coverage of sports in the region’s high schools.

The Torrington-based Register-Citizen, now owned by Hearst and formed with the merger in the 1980s of the Torrington Register and the Winsted Evening Citizen, recently announced it would only publish once a week instead of Monday through Saturday.

Winsted Mayor Todd Arcelaschi and Town Manager Joshua Kelly also spoke of the role of newspapers in holding the feet of public officials to the fire. Bird emphasized that the media landscape is full of misinformation, especially on local issues that lack professional coverage by professional journalists.

“They keep us accountable for our actions, whether it’s politicians, businesses, schools, police officers, coaches or students,” Arcelaschi said.

“We’re committed to make sure you know more about what’s happening and I know the Winsted Citizen will be great partners in that way, demanding a level of excellence in town leadership,” Kelly, the town manager, added.

Thibault and two of his hired hands, Associate Editor Melanie Ollett and Advertising Director Rosemary Scanlon, also took questions from the audience. In response to a reporter’s questions, Thibault said the paper would be owned by a nonprofit, the Connecticut News Consortium, whose application was recently filed for tax-exempt status to the Internal Revenue Service.

Asked about the labor involved in production and to what extent the Citizen would rely on volunteers, Thibault would only say that, “Everyone will get paid.” He has assembled a team of journalists, some of whom are well known to Connecticut news consumers, including: former Hartford Courant reporter Kathy Megan, Hearst and CTNewsJunkie columnist Susan Campbell; longtime Courant political cartoonist Bob Engelhart; former Litchfield County Times editor Douglas Clement; reporter and opinion writer Liz Dupont-Diehl; and sports writer Matt Caputo.

“Ralph feels that it will be important to younger generations that they be exposed to reading local news and to develop a habit for doing so,” Bird said of Nader, who was born in 1934 and grew up in an era in which newspapers had little competition for advertising dollars. 

It remains to be seen whether the Winsted Citizen can attract readers under 40 who habitually use smartphones and have rarely, if ever, held a print newspaper in their hands. The mayor, for one, remains hopeful. 

“As the nephew of a retired newspaper printer, I learned at an early age that there’s a magical feeling holding a newspaper in your hand,” said Arcelaschi. “There’s an intoxicating smell from the ink and the paper.”

The first edition, which will be free, will be published on Feb. 3. Copies are available in multiple locations, including Winsted News, a shop on Main Street. In addition, staff members will be in the parking lot of the tort museum handing out copies all day Friday. Live music will be provided. The Citizen is also opening an office of its own on Elm Street.

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