Taking a look at Connecticut budget coverage

Gov. Dannel Malloy

Compared to Greater Boston, the decline of traditional news organizations in Connecticut is considerably more advanced. The Hartford Courant, a venerable statewide daily that traces its founding to 1764, is owned by Tribune Co., which is in bankruptcy. As a result, the Courant has had to cut back on its Statehouse coverage in recent years. Other largish dailies, such as the New Haven Register, no longer even have a full-time Statehouse reporter.

Yet Connecticut has also proved to be a place where digital-media experiments have arisen to fill in some of the gap. Two that are focused on state government are the Connecticut Mirror, a well-funded non-profit, and CT News Junkie, a scrappy for-profit that also functions as the Statehouse bureau for the non-profit New Haven Independent.

With Gov. Dannel Malloy having reached a tentative agreement with the state’s labor leaders on Friday, a deal that could prevent the layoff of nearly 5,000 employees, I thought this was a good time to check in on how the old and new players covered it.

Hartford Courant

  • Lede: “Capping months of secretive talks, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and state-employee union leaders reached a deal Friday to save $1.6 billion over the next two years in exchange for a promise not to lay off unionized workers for the next four years.”
  • When: Time-stamped at 10:11 p.m. on Friday; published in Saturday’s print edition
  • Length: About 1,600 words
  • What: A densely reported story that is full of details but is a little bewildering if you’re not an insider. Perhaps the one-must read if you’re a stakeholder, but loses points for quoting the chairman of the Republican State Committee as calling the budget “unconstitutional” without offering (or demanding) an explanation.
  • Reported by no one else: “At the end of his prepared remarks in announcing the deal, Malloy’s speech said, ‘Finally … so much for Friday the 13th being an unlucky day!’ But Malloy never delivered that line.”

The Connecticut Mirror

  • Lede: “Negotiators for state employee unions and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy tentatively agreed Friday on a two-year $1.6 billion package of concessions and other labor savings that will help Malloy balance the $40.1 billion biennial budget without 4,700 announced layoffs.”
  • When: Posted on Friday with no time-stamp, but first comment posted at 2:29 p.m.
  • Length: About 1,400 words, plus a 1,100-word sidebar analyzing the implications of the deal for future budget planning, posted later on Friday
  • What: As with the Courant, the Mirror’s main story is densely reported and filled with details of interest mainly to insiders. The sidebar, though, provides needed perspective by demonstrating how difficult it will be for Malloy to hold on to savings in the face of demands that he undo program cuts.
  • Reported by no one else: “With over $19 billion in bonded debt, Connecticut ranks among the top three states in the nation in terms of debt per capita, and debt as a percentage of the taxpayers’ personal income.”

CT News Junkie

  • Lede: “Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said that after months of negotiating he has reached a deal with labor that saves the state $1.6 billion over the next two years and $21.5 billion over the next 20. However, at a 3 p.m. press conference there was little Malloy could say about the agreement until negotiators have had time to brief union members.”
  • When: Friday at 6:12 p.m. (final update); initial post at 2:20 p.m.
  • Length: About 900 words
  • What: As the site’s name suggests, CT News Junkie is mainly geared toward political junkies and insiders. It doesn’t get any more insidery than this: “Also the retirement age will be raised from 60 to 63 for Tier II employees and 62 to 65 for Tier IIa employees, however, those changes won’t kick in until 2022.” But the shorter length makes for a somewhat zippier read without sacrificing much in the way of needed details.
  • Reported by no one else: “In 2009 the last time a the [sic] SEBAC contract was reopened it took the state employee unions three weeks to complete the ratification of the contracts.”

The New York Times

  • Lede: “Threatened with nearly 5,000 layoffs, representatives for 45,000 unionized state employees agreed Friday to $1.6 billion in concessions over two years to help balance a budget that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy says includes pain for everyone: record tax increases, substantial program cuts and worker givebacks in health care, pension benefits and wages.”
  • When: The Web version of the article says it was “published” on Friday; it appeared in print on Saturday
  • Length: About 900 words
  • What: The Times covers major Connecticut stories as part of its New York local report. The story, which cites the Courant for some details, offers a more sweeping view than the others, going with fewer details and seeking to place Malloy’s conciliatory approach with the unions in a broader political context.
  • Reported by no one else: “And while the confrontational approach has made Governor Christie of New Jersey a hot property, there is no early indication that what Mr. Malloy calls ‘shared sacrifice’ is working as well for him. A Quinnipiac University poll in March put his approval rating at 35 percent.”