By Dan Kennedy
Consumer advocate Ralph Nader was hailed as a hero in late February when it was reported that he would launch a nonprofit newspaper in Winsted, Connecticut, where he was born. The new paper, the Winsted Citizen, hired veteran journalist Andy Thibault as its publisher and editor, and it looked like nothing but bright skies on the horizon. The paper is the town’s first since the Winsted Journal shut down in 2017, although the community is covered by the daily Republican-American of nearby Waterbury.
But the Citizen stumbled right of the gate — and the reason is that Nader apparently didn’t come through with the money he had promised. According to Bob Sillick of the trade publication Editor & Publisher and Daniel Figueroa IV of Hearst CT, Nader failed to provide the $22,500 that Thibault said he had pledged to fund the Citizen’s second edition, instead offering an $8,000 loan. That offer was turned down. The Citizen is having trouble meeting payroll, and it sounds like the future of the Citizen is in doubt, although Thibault says he and his staff are pushing ahead.
If there’s another side to the story, we’re not hearing it from Nader. Both Sillick and Figueroa say that Nader has not responded to their attempts to obtain comment. Meanwhile, the print-centric newspaper, which costs about $30,000 per issue to produce, is going to pivot to digital-first, although print will continue to be offered. The website will be paywalled. Thibault has posted the statement he gave to Hearst on the Citizen’s blog, and I reproduce it here in full:
It is true that we put out the second edition without promised funding and that we owe many contributors pay for services rendered. With ongoing support from subscribers, advertisers and donors, we absolutely will honor all our obligations.
I am so proud to work with all our staff individually and collectively. These are real people running on broken glass through the desert sand to get the job done. They are young and old, some approaching the end or their careers and some just starting It is my duty as editor and publisher to serve our readers and staff. As long as I breathe, I will, without fear or favor.
Our leadership team and staff continue to work eight days a week. On Monday we will conduct a thorough review of all financial data. Story conferences have cranked up already for the April edition. Deadlines [have been set].
Initially, Ralph told me he only wanted to do a pilot edition, then sit back for six or eight weeks to get feedback. I told him that would not work, we need a Second Act and funding for six months at double the rate for the first edition. Managing Editor Melanie Ollett and Advertising / Circulation Director presented detailed budgets by request and they were ignored.
These are indisputable facts and I would submit to a state police certified polygraph exam.
During a conversation with Ralph and his legal counsel I agreed to produce 25% of the revenue needed for the second edition and was promised funding on that basis.
This has not happened. Instead Ralph switched gears and, through his counsel offered a loan of $8,000 that has not shown up … We are deeply grateful for the support of the community.