September 18, 2017
FOCUS: Advertising & Media

Hearst bets big on Connecticut's media industry

Photo | Contributed
Photo | Contributed
The New Haven Register's newsroom is preparing for changes as its new owner, Hearst, prepares to invest more in its journalism and expand its sales team. Hearst now also owns a toehold in central Connecticut with its purchase of the Middletown Press.
Mark Aldam, President, Hearst Newspapers
Rich Hanley, associate professor of journalism, Quinnipiac University

Hearst's Connecticut publications

Daily newspapers:

Connecticut Post

The Norwalk Hour

Stamford Advocate

Greenwich Time

The News-Times

*The New Haven Register

*The Middletown Press

*The Register Citizen

Magazines

*Connecticut Magazine (monthly)

*The Connecticut Bride (twice a year)

Weekly newspapers:

Fairfield Citizen

Westport News

Darien News

New Canaan News

The Greater New Milford Spectrum

*Post-Chronicle

*Milford-Orange Bulletin

*ShoreLine Times

*Fairfield & Westport Minuteman

*West Hartford News

*The Foothills Trader

*The Litchfield County Times

*The Dolphin (distributed on the Submarine Base in Groton)

*Newly purchased

When pressed about the benefits that will be brought to bear by Hearst's recent purchase of three Connecticut dailies, a magazine and eight weeklies, Hearst Newspapers President Mark Aldam had a simple response: "Scale matters."

The acquisition in June particularly of the New Haven Register — "the paper we were most interested in" — brings Hearst's Connecticut publication count up to eight dailies and 13 weeklies, plus the monthly Connecticut Magazine and twice-yearly Connecticut Bride Magazine, he said in a wide-ranging interview.

The deal also expands Hearst's geographic footprint, giving it its first toehold in central Connecticut with the acquisition of the Middletown Press.

All told, Hearst will now be reaching 850,000 households — the largest aggregate readership in a state with a population approaching 3.6 million.

What consumers — not just readers — have to look forward to as Hearst invests in its newly acquired news gathering organizations and sales teams is solid journalism, beefed up newsroom staffing, shared back-office resources and stories across news outlets, Aldman said.

In addition, Hearst, which is a New York-based multimedia company with more than 360 businesses including cable TV networks, is introducing events to its Connecticut operations, with two new events planned for 2018, said Paul Barbetta, president and publisher of the Hearst Connecticut Media Group.

"We expect to add more as we evolve," Barbetta said. "We typically partner with event companies located in Connecticut and New York."

Hearst's website GameTimeCT.com will also be rebuilt and modeled after the Houston Chronicle's Texas Sports Nation site, catering to all sports in Connecticut and featuring both interactive and reader contributions.

"This is a Hearst Connecticut project and not confined to New Haven," Barbetta said.

Aldam also said Hearst will unveil this fall a "game-changing" approach to interacting with readers. No further details were provided.

Aldam and Barbetta declined to disclose the private company's financials, but they did say Hearst's newspapers group has experienced earnings growth in each of the last six years.

"We are committed to developing, training, educating and employing the largest local sales teams in every market we do business in," Aldam said, "and to retaining and upgrading the highest quality local journalism in those same markets."

Expanded coverage

Hearst's expansion in Connecticut comes at a time of much change and uncertainty in the media industry as fewer readers subscribe to print publications in favor of digital content.

According to a recent Pew Research Center analysis, total weekday circulation for U.S. daily newspapers — both print and digital — fell 8 percent in 2016, marking the 28th consecutive year of declines.

Rich Hanley, associate professor of journalism at Quinnipiac University, has been eagerly watching for changes at Hearst, and said the June purchases from 21st Century Media Newspaper LLC, a Digital First Media company, should prove good for the industry and customers.

"There's a strong probability they didn't go into this guessing; they knew exactly what they wanted to do and they will execute that plan," Hanley said. "I expect them to deploy best practices from what they've learned across their company, and that's to the benefit of their readers because it's worked in other markets."

Coverage of state news, UConn and news from the state Capitol will be spread across Hearst publications and constitute a priority, along with local coverage, Aldam said. The New Haven Register will also bring back inhouse its statewide political coverage, which it previously outsourced to a third party.

At least four Hearst reporters will be dedicated to statewide coverage, Aldam and Barbetta said.

UConn's role as both a sports franchise and academic institution will get play on Hearst websites and in print, Aldam added.

When it comes to staffing, aside from any employees let go by the previous owners, there have been no layoffs, Aldam said.

At the New Haven Register, Hearst has added 12 positions in sales, will add 10 in the newsroom, and has already restored four news positions, he said.

To enhance news content, the new owner is committed to "restoring more journalists' jobs, upgrading the quality of journalists we hire and retain and sharing some duplicate coverage [but] sourcing [stories] once."

Another strategy Hearst has employed to operate more efficiently is investing in new consumer marketing systems. And a goal for the end of this year is to upgrade all management teams.

Ultimately, said Quinnipiac's Hanley, the size of the acquisition will work to Hearst's — and readers' — advantage in Connecticut.

Having such a large footprint and scale will allow the company to put a continuous flow of fresh content across all of its websites, keeping readers well informed, he said.

"The downside [is] there will be less competition," Hanley said. "Without that competition you may lose a little edge, but I have confidence in the ability of the reporters to be supported by Hearst in terms of digital tools and material essential to contemporary news gathering."

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