Herald Tightens Its Belt

Dan Coleman's picture

If you read this morning's papers, you already know that the Durham Herald-Sun's new owners took over with a bang, firing nearly 25% of the workforce. Haven't heard to what extent those cuts affect news in general or Orange County in particular [Ray?]. On the face of it, it's hard to imagine that it bodes well for the paper's commitment to provide quality coverage for Granville, Person, Chatham, and Orange counties as well as Durham.

Also troubling is the new owner's clear concern about cost rather than quality of product. Check out the stories in both the N&O and the Herald itself for a sense of that. Paxton Media has sent 80 unhappy former employees on the streets. Not great for PR. They have done little to introduce the new owners to the community and readers nor have they explained their vision for the paper or strategy for achieving it.

It has long been the case that local coverage sets the Herald apart. You just can't get it anywhere else. It would be nice to hear something from Paxton on their commitment in this regard. National and global news in the Herald and N&O are 90%+ from the same wire stories. The N&O, of course, is the place to go for coverage of state government issues and for Boondocks.

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75 Comments

I just subscribed to the

I just subscribed to the N&O. Today's was the 2nd copy delivered. I'm still getting the Herald, to see how they compare. I'll drop one eventually.

I'm especially interested in how each covers national and Orange county news (natch). I care only a little about Durham news (though some Durham stories are like car wrecks, a tragedy you can't help looking at). I care even less about Raleigh news. Actually, much less. About as much as I care about Greensboro news. National news in the N&O appears to be a little more extensive, but not remarkably so.

-Ed

I subscribe to the Herald

I subscribe to the Herald for three reasons--the local coverage is better than the N&O's, Frazz, and I live in a house with two other newspaper readers. (Four when my elder son is home from college.) With both the N&O AND the Herald--we never have to fight over the paper. BUT--if I can convince the N&O to start running Frazz, and the Herald's Chapel Hill coverage slips--I'm OUTTA there.

Other comments on the same

Other comments on the same story appear include Dan "we the media" Gillmor's blog, the Poynter Institute's Romenesko blog, Editor and Publishers and many media outlets nationwide.

Again I recommend Phil Meyer's The Vanishing Newspaper: Saving Journalism in the Information Age and if you are interested in talking about how and if you (and we) can become We the Media, sign up for the Triangle Bloggers Conference 2005 to be held on February 12th.

Also see my posting on local media consolidation and comments here on CHL, etc.

Paxton would do well to

Paxton would do well to remember that this is still a small community. No matter how many papers they own, each paper serves a specific area. They produce a local product. They are not a national firm that can treat their employees any way they want with minimal backlash from their customers. Many of us know people who work at the Herald. To summarily fire 25+ year employees, including one who is 70 years old, sounds pretty ruthless. Even the appearance that the new owners are running roughshod over the current organization casts them in a bad light.

I saw nothing in today's paper from the new management team to set the record straight, do a little damage control, or even to say hello and declare their intentions for the paper. Maybe tomorrow. But silence speaks volumes in this context. Hopefully they don't assume no one cares. If they do, they shouldn't have bought it.

This story has been very

This story has been very widely circulated, but most of the accounts just repeat what the Herald reported. Here's one with some additional information:

http://www.reclaimthemedia.org/stories.php?story=04/12/03/6358151

What I find most curious is that I cannot find a corporate website for Paxton. Anyone else had any success? I'd also be interested in reading any personal blog entries from Herald staff.

I used to get both the N&O

I used to get both the N&O and the H-S,
and agree that the N&O is the better
paper but the H-S has better Chapel Hill
coverage. What I really want, of course,
is the N&O and the CH Herald,
but that's not fully available, either on paper
or on the computer. Every August
when reps of both papers appear at the
pit on the UNC campus with their yearly
subscription specials, I decide, not totally consistently, which paper
to take for the year. I am finding
it more difficult to take the H-S because
it is far more expensive than the
N&O. This year I took the H-S, but will
be quite interested to see how it changes
in content, size and subscription cost.
Another practical point I consider in my
decision is the amount of the paper that
I recycle without reading. The N&O
fills my bin easily twice or three times
as fast as the H-S.
Is there any way that we can
get the N&O here in CH without all
the Raleigh classifieds? -- I know I'm
dreaming because the primary function
of a newspaper is to sell ads, while
providing news is secondary.

I truly hope that the CH Herald does not
lose its coverage or quality. What is
anticipated Ray or Neil?

Paul--thanks for the link.

Paul--thanks for the link. Usually they delay the online comics by a week--but that was today's! Cool! Will be certain to forward that link to my son at college. (The paper up there doesn't carry Frazz...)\

I'll continue to get the H-S for the Chapel Hill Herald--until such time as the Herald declines. Then I will (gleefully) go back to ONLY the N&O. 'Cause it IS expensive to do both!

Actually--I may bail on the H-S as soon as my younger kid goes to college. At that point we'll be down to TWO paper readers...

Terri, what's new in that

Terri, what's new in that article? It's over a month old.

Anyway, this all makes the changes at the C. H. News look extremely thoughtful in comparison. Anyone have opinions on how the new editor and publisher are doing there?

What stuns me most about the debacle at the Herald is that a MEDIA company could be so ignorant about PUBLIC RELATIONS. I fully expect Paxton (and other media chains) to have nefarious (or at least greedy) plans, but if they can't even market themselves or communicate effectively with the community they claim to serve then I have to wonder how they will be able to communicate news and information to us.

It seems that these days when a newspaper or radio or TV station goes up for sale, things can only get worse. Viva blogs!

In other news-related news,

In other news-related news, The Chapel Hill Herald reports on a change in WCHL management.

http://heraldsun.com/orange/10-562331.html

" A former news and sports reporter who began his broadcast career at WCHL 24 years ago has returned to lead the local AM radio station.

Walter Sturdivant, 46, began his duties this week as president and general manager of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro station that is a news partner of The Chapel Hill Herald. Sturdivant replaces Karen Cates, who returned to her former employer, WRAL-FM in Raleigh, after a brief stint.

"I'm pretty excited about a chance to come back to Chapel Hill, because Chapel Hill is a special place," Sturdivant said. "To a very large extent, a radio station like WCHL represents what local broadcasting is really supposed to be all about, which is localism, community and serving the people of the local area, and in this case I mean Chapel Hill and Carrboro." "

More in the article by Geoffrey Graybeal

Fiona Morgan's Indy piece

Fiona Morgan's Indy piece is, as usual, very good and thorough.

The key question will be whether the N&O has the energy or resources to make another hard run at Durham. They've tried to be competitive, but Bill Hawkins is right -- the H-S has been successful in its resistance.

A friend pointed me to these circulation figures:

http://www.powerreporting.com/knight/nc_the_news___observer__raleigh.html

If you add up the N&O's circulation in Durham zip codes, you get a figure hovering around 8000-9000 copies on weekdays. That's about 5.5% of the paper's total weekday circulation -- so, probably not much of a profit center for the company.

But if Durham continues to grow, especially with the development of the downtown for the relatively well-heeled urban professional, the N&O might see a new opportunity, especially if the H-S goes to more wire copy and less local coverage.

As a reader, it's a little disturbing to hear that Paxton, a relatively small media company as such companies go, is one of the most profitable in the industry. I suppose there are many ways to make a newspaper more profitable, but one of the easiest is to cut the cost of creating content -- that is, fewer reporters and editors and copyeditors and photographers, more wire copy. Newspapers are in the business of selling advertising, and so if you do the minimum to keep your circulation numbers up, you're more likely to maximize profit.

I wouldn't hazard a guess what these changes mean for the Chapel Hill Herald and its Orange-Chatham coverage. The Chapel Hill Herald has been an enormously successful experiment of more than 10 years now, and I'd be surprised if they futzed with it too much -- it's not exactly a top-heavy outfit over their on Mallette Street. I did notice, though, that Chatham County was one county the new publisher did not mention in his rundown of counties they would make sure to cover in the future. This might have been an oversight, and I hope it was. The Herald does a good job in Chatham, better than the N&O, and with the growth that's happening in Chatham, the county is both a subject of interest to Chapel Hill, and a growing market for the paper. It would be a shame to give that up, and I hope they don't.

Finally, to all you folks running businesses out there: look at the profit margin they're targeting. Thirty percent. I'd be curious to know how many businesses expect that kind of profit year in and year out, let alone actually attain it in any but the best of years. You don't make that kind of profit by spending more on content -- you've got to cut the cost of content, it's the softest target at a paper. You need the advertising salespeople, you need the people to deliver the paper, you need the pressmen -- but maybe you can do without a bunch of reporters.

I say it again: newspapers are in the business of selling advertising first.

The Herald-Sun, as Fiona points out, was in the secondary business of paying huge dividends to that money-sucking, no-count Rollins family, who haven't been meaningfully involved in the running of the paper for years. We can only hope that, unlike the extended Rollins family, the new owners might see fit to reinvest at least some portion of the profit into the newspaper itself.

I'm not holding my breath.

p.s. I wouldn't expect any of the folks at the Herald or the Herald-Sun to comment publicly on any of these matters in this forum, at least at the moment.

There seems to be no end to

There seems to be no end to the indignation being heaped on the Paxton folks over their Monday removal of Herald-Sun employees.
At the respected Poynter Institute, Jim Romenesko collects local articles from NandO and Indy to place in front of the profession at http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=45&aid=76544 At NandO, Ruth Sheehan unloads http://www.newsobserver.com/news/sheehan/story/1987722p-8372023c.html The Indy gets both their opinion piece by Richard Hart http://indyweek.com/durham/2005-01-05/upfront.html and the most extensive reporting done so far on the subject by Fiona Morgan http://indyweek.com/durham/current/triangles2.html picked up by Romenesko.

Editor and Publisher couldn't find anyone with a positive take on the Paxton actions http://www.mediainfo.com/eandp/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1...

"We the Media" author Dan Gillmor weighs in on his blog http://dangillmor.typepad.com/dan_gillmor_on_grassroots/2005/01/newspape...

WRAL reports that Durham Council Member Eugene Brown has harsh words for Paxton http://www.wral.com/news/4056753/detail.html

I'm still looking for a favorable article or even a comment -- locally or nationally. If any of you do find something positive, please post here.

If the real riches of a local paper are its social capital, then the Paxton folks pushed a lot of gold off the table very quickly.

At least tangentially

At least tangentially related, the Greensboro News and Record seems to be much closer to "getting it", both in terms of their reaching out to the community they serve and their current and future potential grasp of the Web (staff blogs with comments turned on for their online editions today with a number of suggestions from my pal Lex for taking it much further in the future). They seem to be looking forward while the NYT is looking backwards and Paxton just seems to not give a crap. Jay Rosen's article about it is pretty interesting.

Joe C. I used to get the

Joe C. I used to get the Herald for the CH Herald but found I can read it on line. True, you cannot get the editorials but many of them (written by a frequent blogger of this site) I can certainly live without. I now get the N&O for the news coverage and read the CH Herald online for the local coverage. Please don't tell Paxton or they'll cut it off!

Continuing the tracking of

Continuing the tracking of national reaction to the Herald-Sun situation...

ESPN's Dick Vitale, at 10:13 to go in today's Tar Heel game, let fly with a little rant about the fact that Al "Feather" Featherston had been fired by the "Duke Morning Herald," and had complimentary things to say about Feather and bad things to say about the paper's decision to fire him.

"Shame, shame, shame," he said.

Over the 6 years that I got

Over the 6 years that I got the paper I certaintly have had issues with it. [The Christian sermons every Saterday masquerading as religious commentary, for one instance. The regular censorship of Doonsbury for another.] However I had found the editors to be very responsive. Their integrity (even when they were wrong they were sincere) and the decent coverage of local politics were what kept me subscribing to a paper that annoyed me on several fronts. Now that they and tons of reporters have been fired local coverage CAN ONLY decline in favor of wire reports that I can easily get online, I am going to let my subscription lapse. What are other people doing?

1] Keep subscribing
2] Let subscription lapse (Read online for free or not?)
3] Cancel immeditly with or without an angry phone call.
4] Never did subscribe, still won't
5] Finally they got rid of person X, I am subscribing today!
6] Wait until changes become more obvious.

Fiona Morgan just called in

Fiona Morgan just called in to the show on WUNC and spanked the Herald guy for saying only a couple of peopel where cut from the newsroom. Fiona easily rattled off about 10 names of fired writers (and nationally-recognized cartoonist John Cole) before the host cut her off. The Herald guy drew some kind of distinction between reporters and columnists, who he feels are unnecesary. He also asys the market isn't big enough for it's own editorial cartoonist!

David (Hoggard, I presume)

David (Hoggard, I presume) from Greensboro just in called to ask the Herald what they thought about the Greensboro News & Record's effort to embrace blogs and "open-source journalism." The guy from the Herald said he never heard of it.

The other guest and host went on to explain it to him. This is only re-inforcing the clear picture of the new Herald management as completely clueless at best. They don't even appear to be trying to make an effort at public relations.

I am the last person in town

I am the last person in town to go to for defense of the Herald-Sun management, but I thought I actually understood a distinction that Bob Ashley was trying to make (though he explained it very poorly).

He was insistent that the paper was down only "one or maybe two people who are on the street reporting news." We all know there are many more writers who are out on their ear, but I think his intent was to draw the line between features, photography and opinion writing and that of hard news. The former is fluff (they seem to think) and the latter is bread and butter.

The departure of Jim Wise would be one example of that -- he wrote a regular column and many travel features as well. He will probably be hired at the N&O before I get to the end of this sentence.

My gripe with Paxton (and I do NOT speak for the Chapel Hill Herald staff IN ANY WAY here) is not that they let so many people go, but that they did so in such a manner as to injure the reputation of the newspaper. Please read on (http://jeanbolduc.blogspot.com/2005/01/herald-sun-former-community-newsp...) if you're interested in taking action to tell Paxton they owe the community an apology.

I have requested that my

I have requested that my subscription be cancelled. The way in which the matter was handled was terribly unprofessional. I work with businesses every day, and I understand that new ownership may bring changes, and that some of those may be controversial and painful. However, basic respect for one's staff is not negotiable in my book. Even if someone's job is being eliminated, it can be done with some compassion and dignity, neither of which seem to have been part of this company's equation.

I'm voting with my pocketbook. I've always liked the Herald Sun's local coverage but I'll have to read it online or get it somewhere else.

I don't recall Jack being a

I don't recall Jack being a featured columnist at the Herald-Sun.

For those who have enough to do that you missed it (?!) please enjoy my appearance on WTVD: http://abclocal.go.com/wtvd/news/011305_NW_newspaperprotest.html and toss you Sunday issue in the Pickett Road driveway!

As for the online stuff at the paper, I hear that they've pulled all columnists (Durham and Chapel Hill) and will no longer feature letters to the editor online either ... an effort to incent the public to buy the print edition.

Not what I'd call "visionary."

Wow Terri, good eye! I

Wow Terri, good eye! I hadn't noticed (since I check their site less and less). The Chapel Hill section of the page page that usually has the letters to the editor as well as a few of the (less interesting) Chapel Hill columnists now only has the one CHH editorial.

http://www.herald-sun.com/opinion/

This is probably just the beginning of a lot of crappy changes to come.

Has anyone else noticed that

Has anyone else noticed that the online version of the Herald (Chapel Hill version) no longer has letters to the editor? And none of the letters to the editors in the Durham version mention anything about the Paxton-induced changes to the paper. AND the Chatham section hasn't had anything new added to it for well over a week.

I noticed in this morning's

I noticed in this morning's N&O that Paxton-fired H-S columnist Jim Wise now has a weekly column in the N&O that appears in the Friday City & State section. Today's column is about Rougement trying to become a bona fide town. In the Jan 12th column that Wise wrote in the Independent, he ended it with "Be seeing you." Obviously, it didn't take long.

Here's the amazing thing -

Here's the amazing thing - the Herald Sun had a NATIONALLY RECOGNIZED AND HONORED (yes, I know it is yelling - it is worth it) editorial cartoonist and let him go, without ceremony or reason, within a week of his wife's giving birth. The latter part pisses me off personally. The former part pisses me off generally, because, maybe the market is "too small," but dang it, if you've got the best KEEP IT and do something with it rather than hanging your head and thinking small. Sheesh.

Jean, if that's the reason

Jean, if that's the reason then I expect Dan Coleman to be next in line. I'm actually surprised they cited that rather than your organizing protests against them.

I'm also surprised at the speed and determination with which they are running that paper into the ground. Are we sure Paxton isn't being paid by the N&O to destroy the Herald? I can't think of any other rational explanation for all this.

Anyway, you're much better off not being associated with that sinking ship. Send your next column to me and we'll publish it on Orange Politics (as long as it's local and passes the ideological litmus test ;-) ).

Surprised? No. I'm

Surprised? No.

I'm disappointed that the Herald-Sun management didn't at least shoot straight in giving their reasons for their choice.

To say that they're firing me for posting my columns to my blog demonstrates their lack of concern for their own credibility. I have re-published my work on the Internet (with attribution) for a long time as have other columnists. Because the newspaper has tolerated it for years, it cannot suddenly constitute a breach (regardless of new management) ... at least not as far as I know. I believe it's called "esstoppel by silence," but I'm no lawyer.

It doesn't matter. They have clearly demonstrated how they handle criticism and what their ethical standards are. I don't want to work for them.

Jean, I am truly sorry to

Jean, I am truly sorry to see you get the heave-ho, but I am not surprised. I commend you for taking a stand for what you think is right, but it's apparent that the new ownership of the paper still doesn't get it.

There's more to this turn of

There's more to this turn of evemts than righteous indignation at the Big, Bad Media Corporation who gobbled up the innocent little local paper. Of course Paxton's corporate behavior is reprehensible. But what's new?

I consider it proof that Karma is not dead. The Herald-Sun management delivered a mean-spirited editorial position laced with racism that often by its inconsistencies revealed that it was heavy on agenda and light on objectivity. This Paxton takeover is just the sort of "free-market" bullshit that they championed over the years. To them, business could do no wrong and if they were writing about this from a distance, they would have endorsed Paxton's right to do what they did. Couldn't have happened to a more deserving crew.

Furthermore, the paper was constantly full of garden-variety errors and misleading headlines.

Their "nationally- recognized" cartoonist was a sophomoric, mean-spirited hack whose punch lines were often so contrived that, like an obnoxious drunk's ranting, they merited no response.

I don't miss any of the Herald-Sun's cranky "conservatism" and I'm just happy that the new owners enlarged Doonesbury so that it can now be read without a magnifying glass. Now if they can only start running baseball box-scores that meet 2oth century standards, I'll be happy.

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