Fired Courant Editor Speaks out in NYTimes on Ethics issue

To the Editor:

As the editor in charge of the content of The Hartford Courant’s print and online editions until my departure in May, I never gave an advertiser a “heads-up” about a pending story, nor was I aware of any such agreement between the advertising and news sides of the company (“Losing Job, Consumer Columnist Cries Foul,” Business Day, Aug. 18).

The journalism I practiced during my 30-year career at The Courant observed, even celebrated, the “separation of church and state.” This, in my view, is a fundamental tenet of ethical journalism: the pursuit of a story “without fear or favor.” These are not hollow clichés, but deeply held convictions that drive concrete practices.

From the inception of his “Watchdog” column, my instructions to George Gombossy, The Courant’s recently departed consumer columnist, were to be scrupulously accurate, fair and unflinching in his reporting — whether or not his subject was an advertiser.

Barbara T. Roessner

West Hartford, Aug. 18, 2009

The writer is a former political reporter, opinion columnist, projects editor and, most recently, managing editor of The Courant.

Similar Posts:


6 Comments on "Fired Courant Editor Speaks out in NYTimes on Ethics issue"

  1. George Gombossy | August 24, 2009 at 8:39 am |

    Just adding my two cents here. First, full disclosure. Bobbie was my boss for many years, has been and is a good friend. I have tremendous respect for her talents as a writer, editor, and manager. While I had my disagreements with her and with our boss, Cliff Teutsch, over management and news issues, we never disagreed about ethics. There was never a discussion about whether we run a story, or how we run a story just because there was an advertiser involved. Infact that were occasions when Bobbie asked me to investigate claims that major advertisers said in The Courant.
    It was Bobbie who gave me the marching orders as the Watchdog columnist to be the advocate for consumers, and do whatever was necessary to undue wrongs, even to the point of finding volunteer attorneys to assist indigent victims.
    One point of clarification: having served as the business editor for 12 years and having worked with advertising and circulation on common interest issues, I know that both Cliff and I had given advertising a heads up on occasion when there was going to be a story negative about a major advertiser. It would be ONLY after the advertiser had already been contacted for a rebuttal, and its purpose was to only alert advertising to put on their crash helmets. I saw nothing improper about that.
    News executives, including Cliff, were never given a list of prime advertisers and frankly other than the obvious – Macy’s – we didn’t know or care who they were. Our policy was that when someone who was an advertiser asked for a special favor, we told them that since Macy’s doesn’t get any, why should they expect something.
    I know there are many who have believed for years that newspapers sold out to advertisers. In some places it happened. Until the last few months, it did not happen at The Courant.
    George Gombossy

  2. I do news research for a consumer group, and we’ve noticed the decline in the number of real investigative reporters. The media lays them off or waters down what they find out which is a real disservive to readers. Over and over our group has rolled its collective eyes at the mainstream media’s ‘articles’ that are nothing but business press releases, more or less a free ad for the advertisers they so rely on. Some of the companies featured and praised are in the news again a year or so later–having been indicted for fraud that we knew was going on, and were frustrated that it was not being reported. Readers were kept in the dark, thus more victims for the criminals who had been operating their scams for years before there was an indictment. And many times there is no indictment–law enforcment routinely tells consumers who’ve been ripped off that it’s “civil–just get a lawyer and sue.” A cop out answer if there ever was one, since most of the time the cases aren’t worth enough to interest lawyers, and if there was an arbitration clause they can’t sue anyway. Ultimately, I blame criminals and sleazy business people for consumer rip offs. But the media often helps to cover for these companies until many people have been perhaps severely damaged, financially. It is time to stop catering to the indimidation of business interests and start printing news that’s for the READERS. Honest companies have nothing to fear from that.

  3. What a shame. I had always considered the Hartford Courant one of the few reliable sources for honest information regarding business issues. I’ve worked with far too many investigative reporters across the nation who have lost their job in the past four years. It is nearly impossible to know what business’s to avoid today since so many newspapers are so beholden to advertisers. There is no doubt in my mind that the pressure advertisers put on papers has contributed to this and that the lack of real investigative reporting helped lead to the financial melt down our economy is experiencing today. The crooks in business have a free pass to keep right on ripping off the public. Papers won’t write about them and arbitration clause help to hide their dirty laundry from the public. No wonder people are unwilling to pay for a subscription to a newspaper — there is no real useful information in them anymore. I really feel sorry for people who don’t use computers. At least on line you can do searches to learn more about a business.

  4. As someone who spent 20 plus years of their career in the newspaper biz and who loved the work I have been saddened by the recent loss of so many papers and the obvious continued loss of many more. However, hearing the inside workings of late through the experiences of Mr. Gombossy has led me to conclude that human greed and lack of ethics are doing their part to finish the industry off and it may not be such a bad thing. If the only news that is not beholden to advertisers ends up being on the internet then so be it.

  5. These are dark days on Broad Street… first the Hartford Courant gutted its local news-gathering staff (Larry Smith and Nancy Lastrina for us Enfielders) to fund Tribune’s ever-mounting debt-service … now it has shredded its credibility by granting favorable treatment to advertisers. These two moves have caused The Courant to lose a significant amount of influence and credibility. With your firing, people see that The Emperor of Broad Street has no clothes.

    Even as a reporter and columnist at a student newspaper (, I knew better than to provide favorable treatment to advertisers. This was a concept drilled into our heads by our adviser, Jim Rowe of The Washington Post.

    We published what in retrospect were very negative stories about our number one advertiser, food-service provider Sodexho, knowing full well that at any time they could pull the plug on their account— a weekly full-page color ad that singlehandedly paid for the printing of the paper. Despite bad publicity, Sodexho stayed on board as an advertiser until the university awarded the food service contract to another provider.

    Following the publication of a negative story, a smart business would not pull its account… it would buy more ads to counter the effects of negative publicity… by apologizing and explaining what they’re doing to fix the problems.

    From a business perspective, I think that the days of Tribune-sized conglomerates are over. It is only now that we are coming to understand the degree to which many media conglomerates were built upon mountains and mountains of debt… the servicing of which has proved itself to be unsustainable… in large part because media properties were bought for inflated prices at the peak of the housing / consumer spending boom.

    In the last recession (2000-2001) consumer spending stayed strong. Consequently, this recession is being led by consumer spending— people have stopped buying homes, cars, and consumer products. Add in the loss of lucrative classified advertising to Craigslist, gutted news-gathering operations, and declining circulation, and crushing debt service payments, it’s no wonder newspapers are in trouble. I think that your firing is a symtom of the trouble facing newspapers.

    Perhaps the time has come to start anew… find a venture capitalist willing to put up start-up capital to re-assemble the Courant staff and produce a newspaper that operates in a much leaner manner.


    This article shows just how important good reporting is. Look at the big news outlet’s that got it wrong or didn’t tell the WHOLE story. It’s so important for the public to know the whole story. I hope Lazarus paper doesn’t have BofA as an advertiser!!

Comments are closed.