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Business

Friday, June 20, 2003

Old-Fashioned Newspaper Circulation War on Westport’s Doorstep

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An old-fashioned daily newspaper circulation war on Westport’s doorstep has been simmering for some time, but now it is heating up. What effect it will have on news coverage of Westport is unclear.

The latest salvo was fired today by the editor of The Advocate, based in Stamford. In an editorial page column, Joseph F. Pisani called last week’s letter to readers by Chet Valiante, publisher of The Hour, based in Norwalk, “a sad display of whining and demagoguery.”

“Chet Valiante tried to rally popular support by portraying us as interlopers and himself and his cronies as the hometown boys,” Pisani said. “The simple truth, however, is that The Advocate has been in Norwalk much longer than he and his editor.”

In his letter, Valiante said The Advocate’s push into Norwalk had the sole objective of enriching the corporate coffers.” He said The Hour had deep roots in Norwalk, adding: “Only The Hour is this community’s voice. Dont be fooled.”

For media buffs, the battle between The Hour, which had its start in Westport in 1871, and The Advocate, founded in 1829, is especially fascinating because it pits a little guy against a big guy.

Owned by a local charitable trust, The Hour is one of seven independent daily newspapers in Connecticut and the only one in Fairfield County. (The other 10 state dailies, including The Advocate, are group-owned.) It has no other holdings aside from the Wilton Villager, a weekly, and The Stamford Times, also a weekly.

(For circulation purposes, The Hour counts The Stamford Times as part of its Sunday edition. It reports it that way to the all-important Audit Bureau of Circulations —much to the dismay of The Advocate, which has complained to the circulation-auditing organization.)

The Advocate is owned by Chicago-based Tribune Company, whose newspapers include the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, Newsday, and the Hartford Courant. It also owns two television stations in the state WTIC-TV in Hartford and WTXX-TV in Waterbury.

The Advocate, which also publishes Greenwich Time, makes no mention of Stamford on the front page of its Norwalk edition and instead has Norwalk emblazoned in large type beneath its logo.

In addition to noting its Web address as www.norwalkadvocate.com (from which visitors are redirected to www.stamfordadvocate.com), the front-page logo includes the tagline “in Norwalk, Westport, Wilton and Weston.”

In its bid to increase Norwalk readership, The Advocate has opened an editorial office in Norwalk and staffed it with at least four former Hour journalists.

While The Advocate mentions Westport on its front page, its coverage of the town is sporadic. But when its reporters do cover town issues, town officials say their coverage is usually comprehensive and accurate.

First Selectman Diane Goss Farrell said she has been particularly impressed with The Advocate coverage of her efforts to deal with the area’s transportation woes.

The Hour has one reporter assigned to Westport who also gets high marks from town officials for being thorough and accurate. But these same officials say they are concerned that as The Hour devotes more resources to its battle with The Advocate, coverage of Westport could suffer.

Its unclear whether The Advocate is ready to increase its coverage of Westport. Nevertheless, Westporters are included in the same bargain home delivery subscription offer the newspaper is making to new readers of its Norwalk edition—99 cents a week for daily and Sunday editions.

With the Connecticut Post having abandoned daily coverage of Westport, there is plenty of room for competition here as well.

Update Asked whether The Advocate had any plans to expand Westport coverage, Durham Monsma, publisher of the newspaper, told WestportNow via e-mail: “For now we are concentrating on Norwalk.”

Posted 06/20 at 08:56 PM


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