The state capitol in Hartford, Connecticut. Photo (cc) 2009 by Dan Kennedy.

This is absolutely wild. This morning, a legislative committee in Connecticut will hold a hearing on a bill that would allow Hartford Courant subscribers to sue the paper’s owners if they take on debt or pay dividends that are not “for the good of the company.”

If the bill becomes law and is upheld as constitutional, it could pose a real threat to Tribune Publishing, which has been hacking away at the Courant and which is now on the verge of selling out to the hedge fund Alden Global Capital, notorious for pillaging its newspapers.

According to Matt Szafranski, editor-in-chief of Western Mass Politics & Insight, who’s read the bill, the measure could be legal because the Courant operates under a legislative charter granted in 1887 that requires the paper to operate in the public interest. The Courant was founded in 1764 and is generally regarded as the oldest continuously published newspaper in America.

The Hartford Courant Guild, the union that represents the Courant’s journalists, launched a Save Our Courant campaign last year aimed at finding local ownership. That effort may have gotten a boost earlier this week when The New York Times reported the emergence of a new potential buyer for Tribune who may turn around and sell off the chain’s papers to local interests. The potential buyer, hotelier Stewart Bainum, plans to take Tribune’s Baltimore Sun nonprofit.

Szafranski passed along the Hartford Courant Guild’s press release, which I’m reproducing here in full:

Tomorrow (Thursday) the insurance and real estate committee of the Connecticut state legislature will hold a hearing on a bill that would allow Hartford Courant subscribers to sue the paper’s ownership if it takes on any debt or pays out dividends that are not “for the good of the company.” In other words, it would reassert The Courant as belonging to the community, not to faraway corporate owners.

Crucially, the bill would make life difficult for Alden Global Capital, the notorious hedge fund currently seeking to buy the paper.

The hearing will begin at 9 a.m. and will be streamed through CTN [the Connecticut Network, which carries legislative proceedings]. Among those planning to testify are Courant reporter Rebecca Lurye and Fraser Nelson, a national expert who helped guide the Salt Lake Tribune to nonprofit status in 2019. Already, dozens of supporters have submitted written testimony, including Lurye and Connecticut AFL-CIO president Sal Luciano.

“I’m writing because America’s longest continuously published newspaper is under attack, its survival threatened by far-off corporate leaders who are diminishing the vital journalism we produce in their pursuit of the next penny,” Lurye wrote. “If this hedge fund follows the playbook it has used at numerous other newspapers around the country, the Courant will soon be a shell of what it is now.”

“Quality journalism is just as is important as freedom of the press,” Luciano wrote. “Our state capital city and its residents deserve a newspaper that is committed to reporting the news created here.”

Since the start of 2020, The Courant has lost a third of its staff, had its printing outsourced to Springfield and been stripped of its newsroom, leaving employees without an office indefinitely. The employees of The Courant continue to advocate publicly for the paper to be sold to a local, civically minded owner.

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