A view of Bank Street, in New London Connecticut (John Phelan/Wikimedia Commons)

It is no secret that local newspapers have struggled mightily in the age of digital media, which has gobbled up the advertising revenue that once made them very profitable. Since 2005, 2,500 papers have closed. That includes the 360 that have gone out of business just since the pandemic. The local papers that have survived have done so by creating an online presence while still cutting staff and limiting the reach of their coverage. When we moved from southwestern to southeastern Connecticut, we were eager to subscribe to the Day, the daily paper based in nearby New London. The Day has been an independent newspaper since 1881, and operates as a trust. Its profits are distributed as grants to local community groups. Both my wife and I worked at the paper more than thirty years ago, and getting reacquainted with the print edition is a morning ritual that has reintroduced us to the vagaries of life in the region. Southeastern Connecticut has increasingly become a tourist destination since we left here in 1999. Major attractions include its shoreline towns, beaches, and marinas, as well as the Mystic Seaport Museum and Mystic Aquarium. But the biggest draws are the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods resorts, two casinos operated by Native Americans. Foxwoods is the largest casino in the world, rising incongruously high over a still largely rural landscape.   

The daily paper is a good deal thinner than it was thirty years ago, but many things remain the same. There are, of course, the police logs, which we scan with a beady eye, looking for familiar names. Lots of arrests for DUI, driving with a suspended license, and violating protective orders. A steady number of arrests for drug possession as well. The columnist in the paper’s Region section doggedly tracks various municipal controversies, including alleged corruption at the Connecticut Port Authority. The authority oversees the State Pier Project in New London, a joint public-private enterprise that will provide a staging area for wind farms to be built offshore. The cost of this project has increased from an estimated $93 million to more than $250 million, and is understandably the source of much skepticism. No indictments yet. Local high-school sports are a big focus, with both boys’ and girls’ teams given plenty of space. If you want people to subscribe, it’s a good idea to mention the athletic prowess of their children in the paper.

A lot of space is devoted to obituaries, sometimes several pages in any one day’s paper. It is a community service provided by the paper and written by relatives of the deceased. Not long ago we read the obituary for our family’s former allergist, an endearingly eccentric person. He once memorably described my dry-eye problem as “persistent ocular lachrymation.” His accomplishments were impressive, including graduating from the Coast Guard Academy, which is in New London. There are a lot of former military people in the area because of the Navy’s submarine base on the Thames River in Groton and the gigantic Electric Boat plant nearby. EB produces nuclear submarines and is the largest employer in the area after the casinos.   

Both my wife and I worked at the paper more than thirty years ago, and getting reacquainted with the print edition is a morning ritual that has reintroduced us to the vagaries of life in the region.

You don’t want to ignore the stories about murders and murder trials, which are usually covered with a kind of mischievous detail by local papers. On one recent Thursday, a Front-Page story was headlined “Judge bars New London murder defendant from representing self.” The accused, a forty-six-year-old man, was charged with stabbing to death his “former housemate and intimate partner,” a sixty-three-year-old man. The defendant had previously served thirty days in prison for assaulting his partner. In his effort to represent himself, the accused had refused to return to court after a lunch break. “I was under a lot of stress,” he explained to the judge. One can only imagine. This was the latest incident in the defendant’s efforts to delay the trial, which included firing two of his court-appointed defense attorneys. The trial would now go on with or without him, the judge told the defendant. “You guys can just do whatever you want to do,” the defendant responded. Another murder story concerned a man who killed his cousin, a member of the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation. The killer was diagnosed as schizophrenic and not tried. A new competency evaluation was being ordered by the court at the request of the victim’s mother, who was worried the killer was about to be released from state supervision. A “travesty of justice” was how she described the state’s refusal to put the killer on trial.

“Bergeron gets ‘no confidence vote’” was the headline on another front-page story. Those lacking confidence were the faculty at Connecticut College, who were demanding the school president’s resignation. The faculty had voted to join student protesters, who were occupying college buildings, in demanding Bergeron’s ouster. The issues at hand were a “bullying” management style, the neglect of inclusion-and-equity issues, and her decision to host a fundraising event at a Florida club once known for its exclusion of Blacks and Jews. She canceled the fundraiser. There were also complaints about the condition of the dorms. Bergeron has not resigned and has promised to make amends. It looks like an untenable situation, although the college’s spring break has offered a temporary reprieve. The disgruntled faculty, it might be noted, had unceremoniously defenestrated another woman president in 2009.

Inevitably the Day has also spilled a lot of ink covering the bankruptcy proceedings for eastern Connecticut’s Diocese of Norwich. Whether you look at that from the perspective of the victims, the Church, or the laity, it is a deeply depressing story. Lawyers for the 143 victims are seeking $60 million in compensation, while the diocese has offered $29 million. Because of the statute of limitations, ninety-three victims remain eligible for settlements. In order to raise just the $29 million, the diocese plans to sell its three high schools. Whether the schools would continue to operate in some fashion is unclear. Alumni from one school have raised $6.2 million in hopes of buying the property and keeping the school open. An anonymous bidder, possibly the Mohegan Tribal Nation whose casino is nearby, has offered $6.5 million and would likely go higher if necessary. At this point, it is hard to see how the diocese and the committee for the victims can find common ground. If that is the case, the two plans will be sent to victims, who will vote on which to accept. The result of the vote will then go to a judge, who will make the final decision.

I can’t pretend to know where justice lies in cases like this. Money is a crude, though perhaps necessary, means of compensating the victims of such evils. But if we assume the diocese is not being disingenuous about the state of its finances, it is hard to imagine how a $60 million settlement wouldn’t seriously compromise its ability to carry out its ministries. As I understand it, bankruptcy law is designed to provide “a fresh start,” not ruination. I trust the Day will continue to cover this complex and all-too-familiar story—yet another reason we’re pleased to support our local paper.   

Paul Baumann is Commonweal’s senior writer.

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