On Friday at 5:00 pm, the Connecticut Public Affairs Network stopped its operations of CT-N, a network founded in 1999 to independently cover all three branches of state government.
The closure follows a contract dispute with the legislature, and a 65 percent funding cut imposed in the recently-passed state budget.
But that doesn’t mean that coverage of state government will go away for good.
A spokesman for House Minority Leader Themis Klarides told WNPR it was “never our intention and we never contemplated” the prospect of CT-N going dark. “And it won’t.”
Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz also reached out to WNPR.
“CPAN’s decision to abruptly cease their CTN operations during ongoing discussions on how best to allocate limited resources for the taxpayer-funded network is disappointing,” said Aresimowicz. “Coverage of the Capitol and Legislative Building is a valuable resource in helping the public stay informed about their government, and while virtually all state services are being scaled back due to budget constraints, there is a commitment to continuing CTN’s core mission. That is still our goal going forward.”
Bill Bevacqua is CPAN’s Vice President of Administration and Communications. He’s worked there for 16 years and may be out of a job soon.
“We’ve been informed that there’s some interest in hiring directly some of our technical employees so I think they’re going to get the legislatively-managed network that they’ve wanted all along,” Bevacqua said.
During contract negotiations in recent weeks, CPAN had complained that the legislature was seeking to put partisan staff in control of editorial decision-making at the network.
A letter from the Office of Legislative Management to staff at CT-N Friday confirmed that some variation of the network will exist under the OLM. It said that the “goal will be to have the CT-N control room staffed on Monday morning, November 6” and that “some of you could be part of that solution.”
CT-N’s operating budget was about $2.7 million last fiscal year and Bevacqua said CPAN had expected a 15 percent cut for the next biennium budget.
According to Bevacqua, that would already hinder CT-N’s ability to operate and provide things like closed-captioning for the hearing-impaired, archive content, and include on-screen graphics. But then, he was troubled by a request for proposal from OLM this past April.
In the RFP, the OLM asked for certain restrictions and called for a reduction in “the scope and spending for the production of CT-Network understanding that this reduction may require decreasing the amount and types of coverage.”
It also called for only high-profile judicial branch cases to be covered, along with certain executive branch meetings. And coverage of either branch had to be preapproved by the Connecticut General Assembly.
“This was never about ‘don’t cut us,’” said Bevacqua. “It was always about ‘what’s behind the cut?’ You can strip it down, but the question remains, ‘what’s behind the curtain and is what is being shown really transparency?”
But instead of that expected 15 percent cut, the recent budget that was signed by Governor Dannel Malloy revealed a 65 percent cut to CT-N, down to $1.2 million.
The troubled network received some support Friday from the executive branch. Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman signed a letter pledging $400,000 to support CT-N, and asking for similar pledges from the legislative and judicial branches.
About 33 employees could lose their jobs, including Scott Brede. He’s been a CT-N producer for nine years and reported to work at Friday, even though he was told by his boss the night before about operations ceasing, because the network had been operating on a per-diem basis since Wednesday.
“When we all reported to work, we were locked out of our computers,” Brede said. “We’re supposed to cover the Supreme Court next week and a bunch of cases, and I can’t even access my email to tell them that they we won’t be covering it.”
He tracks bills to make sure the network covers the most important ones. He also builds on-screen graphics. He said that he and fellow employees have already begun looking for work. Coverage of groups like the Psychiatric Security Review Board will probably be gone.
“People think things happen willy-nilly but there’s a lot of thought that is going into all these boards and agencies that will no longer get covered,” Brede said.
Bevacqua said that he was “burned out” after five months of negotiation and will likely take the opportunity to regroup.