newspapers die? Ralph Nader gives birth to a

NEW YORK (AP) — At 88, Ralph Nader thinks his neighbors in northwest Connecticut are tired of electronics and lack the feel of keeping a diary to read about their city.

At a time when local newspapers are dying at an alarming rate, the lifelong activist is helping deliver one.

Copies of the first issue of the Winsted Citizen are circulating in this former New England industrial town, with stories about a newly opened food co-op, a Methodist church closing after worshipers fell behind schedule and the repair of an old bridge of several centuries.

“If it works, it will be a good model for the rest of the country,” said Nader, who delivered a long-lost Winsted newspaper to his hometown in his youth. He now splits his time between Winsted and Washington, D.C.

The last local weekly, the Winsted Journal, started in 1996 before closing in 2017 because it couldn’t make enough money to support itself.

Winsted, a town of about 8,000 people, has seen better days. Locals still talk about the 1955 hurricane that devastated much of Main Street and killed a major employer, the Gilbert Clock Co. Winsted is surrounded by several smaller, more affluent communities, with Litchfield County being a popular destination for townspeople. Winsted Citizen will also cover them.

Since the paper’s shutdown, people have lost touch with what’s happening in local government and the news that binds a community together — who gets engaged, who gives birth — Nader said.

“After a while everything freezes and you start losing the story,” he said. “Every year, if you don’t have a journal, you lose that connection.”

Nader invested $15,000 and hired seasoned Connecticut reporter Andy Thibault to run the Citizen. The imprint lists 17 journalists. They get paid, says Thibault, “when they write a story.”

The motto: “It’s your paper. We work for you.

The Citizen plans to be monthly until next January, when it will become a weekly, Thibault said. He plans to support the newspaper through advertising, donations and subscriptions – $25 for the rest of 2023 and $95 one year after.

Nader is full of suggestions but not pushy, Thibault said. The consumer activist and four-time presidential candidate does not represent a political position, he said.

Thibault used his connections to build a strong group of contributors, including longtime Hartford Courant editorial cartoonist Bob Englehart. The first issue features an in-depth profile of a successful local basketball coach and the story of a five-story mural project in two abandoned factories.

The portrayal of Winsted as a wasteland of news annoyed some. Bruno Matarazzo Jr., a reporter for the US Republican neighbor in Waterbury, taunts Nader with tweeted reminders the newspaper regularly reports on Winsted. Waterbury is about 45 km from Winsted.

“It’s a different kind of reporting when a town has its own newspaper than when a daily newspaper reports on it,” said Janet Manko, publisher and editor of another Connecticut weekly, the Lakeville Journal, which also previously published the Winsted Journal. The failure wasn’t because Winsted didn’t earn a journal, she said.

According to a report released last year by the Northwestern/Medill Local News Initiative, The Journal is one of approximately 2,500 newspapers that have closed in the United States since 2005, all but about 100 non-daily newspapers.

Nader is therefore clearly bucking a trend and should be commended, said Penelope Muse Abernathy, author of The State of Local News report.

“It’s gonna turn heads because it’s Ralph Nader,” she said.

But maybe he won’t be as lonely as he seems. Abernathy said she’s been getting more calls for advice lately from people wanting to open newspapers. The Citizen’s conservative approach – monthly spending before weekly rotation – has been used by others, she said. The need for a smart business plan rather than just a passion project is increasingly recognized.

Given Nader’s romance with Print, it’s a little odd that the cover story for Citizen’s inaugural issue speaks to young Winsted residents about how they get much of their news from social media. Thibault said he plans to establish an online presence.

“I love the print,” said Terry Cowgill, columnist for “I always like to hold a hand-printed journal. I am 65 years old. Most people under 50, certainly under 40, have hardly ever read a newspaper.

However, he applauds the Citizen. Cowgill said he suspects a citizen’s best chance for long-term success is if Nader can trade his fame for foundation grants.

On a cold day last week, volunteers gathered to deliver copies of the first 12-page issue. A woman, Ruthie Ursone Napoleone, stopped a van to ask for more specimens. His father’s obituary was in the first issue, his nephew was quoted in another article, and a third featured his workplace.

She hugged the person who gave her the extra papers.

“I wish my dad could read this,” Napoleone said.


Winsted, Connecticut photojournalist Jessica Hill contributed to this report.

David Bauder, The Associated Press


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