Whither the Herald?

Fiona Morgan has an article in last week's Independent Weekly about the much-discussed rumor that The Herald-Sun is considering ending publication of The Chapel Hill Herald as a separate paper.

Herald-Sun Editor Robert Ashley confirms that the paper is considering such a move, but he said that news of The Chapel Hill Herald's demise is "premature."
- Independent Weekly: News: Orange: Herald-Sun owners weighing fate of The Chapel Hill Herald, 5/2/07

Fiona always does a good job covering media ownership issues, which is why I was surprised that she didn't mention the Carrboro Citizen in her listing of other media that covers southern Orange County. True, it's not daily, but it is the local antidote to mega media chains like Paxton which bought the Herald-Sun in late 2004 and proceeded to slash and burn, firing 80 of 351 employees and making themselves more enemies in this already competitive market.

The cuts began Jan. 3, the day Paducah, Ky.-based Paxton Media Group Inc. closed its purchase of The Herald-Sun, which had been locally owned for more than a century. They proceeded with callous dispatch. Axed staff were forbidden to gather their belongings and escorted to their cars. One top executive was ordered to stop writing an e-mail to his boss. It didn't matter — Paxton already had canned the publisher.
- Business North Carolina: Paper Cuts, July 2005

So what impact would this have for you? Would you start reading other papers and web sites more? Would you be less-informed, or just use other sources? It seems that the Herald has already been alienating loyal local readers. Will you really miss them all that much?



The Herald-Sun remains a cranky conservative rag for the ill-informed Fox News demographic in the area. Their editorial positions and cartoons have often been sophomoric at best and mean-spirited at worst. The baseball box scores continue to be printed in an antiquated format.The frequent mistakes in the paper such as wrong TV times and channels for sports events, accidentally running last week's game schedules, sloppy article editing that leaves out key names and dates, etc. are a running joke in our household. Actually it used to be a running joke because after 15 years of home delivery, they have now proven themselves incapable of delivery anymore.

The reason we subscribed was for the Chapel Hill Herald. It is a good source of local news and the editorial positions, while sometimes reflective of the parent paper's quirky crankiness, are clearly not written from the anti-intellectual perspective that Herald-Sun readers are regularly pelted with.

I'll miss the paper because the Chapel Hill Herald was the only redeeming publication. Yet since they can't get it together to deliver to us anymore, I guess that doesn't matter.

I guess they are making money mining ad revenues with their pared down paper. It just makes me wonder if we'll ever know if a Durham newspaper that targets intelligent and moderate readers could prosper. Dropping the CH Herald could be a big mistake. I can't imagine that the Chapel Hill readership has the taste for Herald-Sun crankiness that apparently a good number of Durhamites have and the readership here will probably take a significant hit.

I cancelled the Herald when I realized I was getting better coverage, in a more timely manner, from the Metro section of the N&O. For years we got BOTH papers...but after the Herald was sold the CHH went downhill quickly...so we cancelled our subscription.

I'll say this--my recyling bin weighs a lot less!

I came to North Carolina to work at The Chapel Hill Herald. I left a big job at a news service in DC, covering Congress, in order to take a job covering Hillsborough and Orange County. I worked in the Hillsborough bureau next to the fire station, alongside Beth Velliquette and in Blake Dickinson's old seat. Under the tutelage of Mark Schultz I first began to learn how to write well, to care about words, and to be dedicated to their proper and artful use. That's where I also learned to like sweet potato pie. In truth, I only ever liked Rolland Wrenn's sweet potato pie, which she used to bring by the office. I miss her. Ray Gronberg always made sure I knew what I didn't know I didn't know, and Susan Broili let me write some articles about books that led me down a path I would never have predicted for myself.

Mark has become our generation's Shoe. He's either worked alongside or had a hand in the development (or both) of a whole lot of young journalists who have gone on to success: Robin (Reale) Flanigan and Patrick Flanigan (multiple national awards, living in Rochester now), Christopher Kirkpatrick (a share of a Pulitzer finalist last year and a National Headliner Award at the Toledo Blade, now a top investigative reporter at the Charlotte Observer), and countless others. Now he's at the Chapel Hill News and the News and Observer doing the same thing. Those of us who have worked with him, and who have been privy to the behind-the-scenes stuff, know how lucky we are to have him in our community.

(In fact, if you can name some more alums of the Herald, please do! There's Blake Dickinson, now at Duke; Julia White, who was generally considered the best reporter to have worked there; tons of other people who were there before me and after me. )

Mark Schultz "re-discovered" Perry Deane Young after Perry's return to Chapel Hill after many years away. Perry should be counted among the finest North Carolina writers of his generation for Vietnam reportage and his brilliant books, Two of the Missing, The David Kopay Story, and his prescient, ahead of its time, God's Bullies.

The Chapel Hill Herald was, for the most part, an island unto itself. We had a lot of space to fill and we came out every day. There was an ethic of freedom to pursue and write whatever you wanted to pursue and write about, so long as you did the legwork on your beat. We were in fierce competition with some great reporters over at the other papers: Anne Blythe, my favorite competitor of all time; Jay Price, who still reports better than I do; Jane Stancill, who constantly whipped my a-- on scoops; the (once) hardest working journalist in Chapel Hill, Mitch Kokai; and Dave Hart, who I believe made the yellow shorebird gourd that sits on my mantle. It was intense, sometimes too intense (for me), but I always felt I was doing something important because of the seriousness that everyone else brought to their beats.

I'm not saying much of substance here, but I guess I'm saying that The Chapel Hill Herald figures prominently in the story of my life. If not for the Herald's location, I would not now be an 11-year member of The Dead Mule Club right next door, and had I not been at the Dead Mule Club one night in September 1997 when the Criminal Defense Bar was meeting there, I probably would not have met my wife. That paper is the reason I came here, and when I quit subscribing to it two years ago, I felt I was cutting off a limb.

Good times.

I used to pick up the Herald from the Southern Village Park & Ride lot box when I was waiting for a late bus. However, that box has sat empty now for almost a year I guess, and luckily the Carrboro Citizen, DT, and the Indy boxes are kept fresh and full.

I wouldn't go back to the Herald if I had to.

Oh, s***, I forgot one of my best friends, Jennifer (Money) Strom!!!! She used to work up in Hillsborough too! And when she went to the Durham office, she brought with her an inimitable work ethic, a talent for editing stories down to their essential, concise core, and a no-bullshit approach to office politics. Now she's managing editor of The Independent and winning awards for her investigative work.

So it sounds like we already miss the Herald. Losing the print publication sadly won't make that big of a difference at this point.

I wish to echo Mark's sentiments, the only reason that Jacquie and I subscribe to the Herald is for their local coverage. Without The Chapel Hill Herald we will probably let our subscription lapse.

Wouldn't change much for me. Except for grabbing the DTH sometimes OP is pretty much my only local news source. No pressure ;)

I may start reading The Citizen, though.

I've tried to tolerate the N&O, the News and the Herald off and on for most of my 30 years in Chapel Hill. it wouldn't surprise me if I hold some sort of record for subscribing and canceling again and again and again.

It was when I had the chance to write a column for the News a year ago that I finally walked away for good. I was paying close attention to everything in both papers, but whatever local coverage they offered didn't begin to offset the many other shortcomings of the two publishing companies.

OP is my local paper.

I guess this is a statemant of the obvious... The pros got beat by the amatures. The DTH does a better job giving me the news that I care about. They don't do well at high school sports or real estate listings. Then, those aren't my interests. It must be hard for the lesser papers to compete against thier better. It's harder when the better is free. Sometimes heart trumps capitalism. Perhaps I'm the hypocrite in ths fourm that needs to study on that thought. I'll work on that this morning and get back later.

I think it will be unfortunate if the Herald goes down.

For instance, if you go to the Orange County section for the N&O yesterday there is nothing. The N&O/CHN does a good job of covering what they have the space to cover but it's pretty limited compared to the Herald. A lot of important and interesting stuff is going to go uncovered unless the N&O decides to ratchet it up its Orange County coverage (which I hope it will!)

You could always count on the Herald for 4-5 stories a day about things going on in our backyard, as well as daily local commentary that you can only get from the CHN twice a week.

I found Neil Offen to be a classy person to work for and think he has made the most out of the resources he has, which seems to be not much. The website situation at Paxton is ridiculous, and no paper that gives so little attention to technology is going to be successful in this era.

Hopefully if the Herald does die, we at OP will be able to help fill the void as well as the N&O and Carrboro Citizen.

The CHH tag line is 'Orange County's only DAILY newspaper'.

It is unfortunate Paxton does not see the opportunities in this.

Clark, I have to object to your analysis. There are a lot of great things about the DTH, but they are not providing better (as in more accurate) coverage of local issues. I'm really glad they do cover the community, they often provide new insights and occasionally cover issues that the other papers ignore.

I'm wondering what the impact of the CH Herald's demise would have on the CH News/N&O. Would they get more revenue and possibly be able to improve their local coverage?

Flicka Bateman had a great commentary this morning on WCHL regarding her Herald experience (negative in terms of circulation). I think they play the same commentary throughout the day so it's good to listen in and try to catch it.

The other "FB" had one on Monday that Flicka said motivated her to also share her experiences. It seems that many have had the same poor service.

I think they replay the entire week of commentaries on Saturday morning at 7:20 AM.

The commentators snippets are usually kept up to date here:


Ron, it would be great if you went back to listing individual commentaries (I'll be happy to help set that up if you need a hand).

The WSJ has an opinion piece today entitled, "A Future for Newspapers," written by Andy Kessler, author of the book "The End of Medicine."

You can get to it through the WSJ's Opinion Journal site that doesn't require a subscription to read the content (ironic, right?).

He makes some interesting observations about newspapers and their ability to compete with "the pipes." And I love this observation:

And newspapers? Where's the pipe? What conduit to readers do they control? Well, there is the guy that drives up and somehow misses your driveway every morning. Or the sidewalk newspaper dispenser where the homeless man buys one copy and steals the rest so he can peddle them on street corners. So unless you are the only paper in town (ask Warren Buffett how much he makes on monopoly papers like the Buffalo News), there is not much of a pipe to control. Instead, reputation, quality news gathering, trust and credibility maintain the franchise, something The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times enjoy on a national level and the Washington Post and others have locally.

Kessler's argument is basically that the belief that it's all over for newspapers may be premature: "The Internet has destroyed newspapers' business model. If Google News doesn't kill them, blogs certainly will. Hmm, maybe not so fast."

Recommend taking a look at his argument, given our discussion here.

I think the problem here is the definition of newspaper.
When some people think newspaper, they think large metro daily.
Most papers in this country are like ours — small, community weeklies. Many of them (more than half in NC) are still locally-owned and operated and are doing fine, thank you very much.

Kirk - isn't that why this thread isn't titled "Whither the Carrboro Citizen?" :-)

Ruby - thanks for finally giving me a simple addition problem, 1+2. Last time I had 6+7 and must of have gotten it wrong since my post was rejected! :-(

All that said, it's still a crap shoot making an 18th century concept work in 21st.
In this week's paper Jock Lauterer makes the case for a public radio approach to community papers. I'm a little skittish about the idea, myself, but I understand the argument.

It appears that a decision has been made, as editor Bob Ashley writes this morning. Does his "to stay the course" comment mean something positive or negative?

Chapel Hill Herald will stay seven-day course

Jun 3, 2007

Back in mid-April, a former Herald-Sun managing editor, John Ham, posted a brief item in a blog of the John Locke Foundation, where Ham is publisher of The Carolina Journal.

"I just heard a rumor that the Paxton Media folks are going to kill the Chapel Hill Herald," Ham wrote.

When another former colleague queried me about that, I responded with apologies to Mark Twain that the reports of The Chapel Hill Herald's death were greatly exaggerated, and certainly premature.

We were, however, as I acknowledged then and later to The Independent, reevaluating how best to serve our readers in Orange and Chatham counties. It is the prudent thing to do from time to time.

The Chapel Hill Herald launched almost 20 years ago. Much has changed, and we needed to assess the best and most efficient means of covering those areas.

We've concluded that the best way to do that right now is to stay the course. The Chapel Hill Herald continues as a seven-day-a-week section, added to the papers delivered to most of our readers in Orange and Chatham along with The Herald-Sun.

We'll remain in our familiar, longtime home at 106 Mallette St. in downtown Chapel Hill.

The Chapel Hill Herald has firmly established itself over the past two decades as an important, vital source of news, opinion and features every day for the communities it serves.

Other media outlets -- quite a few, in fact -- serve the distinctive, eclectic and growing population of Orange and Chatham counties. The News and Observer has a strong presence there, and distributes The Chapel Hill News twice weekly. The Daily Tar Heel, the UNC student newspaper, covers the town of Chapel Hill energetically and campus news has an importance throughout that college-oriented community. WCHL has a robust news and information component increasingly rare in today's radio world, and The Carrboro Citizen has recently launched as a community weekly.

We've always felt that The Chapel Hill Herald, especially combined with the local sports coverage and other content of The Herald-Sun, provided the most comprehensive and consistent coverage of the area.

We continue to feel that way, reinforced by our internal discussions and by feedback to the circulating rumors that we might end the publication. I was especially pleased with what Chapel Hill Mayor Kevin Foy told The Independent.

"Their ability to track what's going on, not just in Chapel Hill but in Carrboro, with the school board, with the county commissioners and to do it every day makes a big difference in people's ability to keep up with local news," the weekly quoted him as saying.

That's what we intend to keep doing -- in fact, there never was much doubt about that, even if we'd changed the form in which we did it.

We would be foolish not to continue.

Despite the strong identity people in all of our communities have with their particular locale, Orange and Durham counties are not just geographically proximate but deeply linked in many ways.

The heavy traffic morning and evening on U. S. 15-501 and on N. C. 54 flows in both directions, as workers shuttle from their homes in Chapel Hill to Duke and its Medical Center or to jobs in the Research Triangle Park, or from their Durham homes to UNC and its medical center, or to Blue Cross-Blue Shield or dozens of other employers.

Chapel Hill and Durham's municipal limits abut at some points. What was a leisurely drive through the country from one to the other when I was a student here in the 1960s has become a bumper-to-bumper strip of development.

Chatham County and northern Orange are experiencing especially vigorous growth. The North Carolina state demographer's office projects that the population in the two counties will be very close to 250,000 by 2030, almost 40 percent more than it is now.

That growth, and the changes it brings, is and will continue to be a major story. A community already rich with institutions ranging from one of the top public universities in the country to a town that boasts its own foreign policy will only become more exciting.

We're right at home, covering it.

Bob Ashley is editor of The Herald-Sun. Contact him at (919) 419-6678 or by e-mail at bashley@heraldsun.com

Anyone notice the change in reporters at the CHH? According to the staff directory, editor Neil Offen also has
veteran Beth Velliquette on the staff and two other reporters named Daniel Goldberg and Ginny Hoyle. No more Rob Shapard or Emily Coakley. Did I miss this story while out of town?

Rob Shapard has enrolled in graduate school, in history I believe. I met Goldberg at the BOE yesterday. He seemed pleasant enough and wrote a good piece on the filing

Rob was on the Chapel Hill beat for the last 4.5 years and I honestly have no clue what his personal views were about any issue in town that he covered. I think that says a lot about the fairness and integrity in his reporting.

He will be a big act to follow.

I agree with you 100%, Tom. Should we give him a pass for going to NC State? :-)

At least it's not Duke :)

In my experience on Town Council and the race up to that, I can tell you that Rob was someone who understood the Council and it's uniqueness, and could report current events accurately and insightfully with his background and institutional knowledge. He is/was such an asset to the CHHerald. He is very personable and smart, and anytime I saw his name on an article I had trust that the article was completely fair. If it's true that he has moved on, I wish him the best of luck.

Laurin nailed it. Good luck Rob, you are a class act.

It's true Laurin. Rob says he will work on a graduate degree in US History and be a teaching assistant at NC State. Some students are in for a great experience.

Rob has been an outstanding reporter. He always seemed to have a quick grasp of the basics of a story, asked the right questions, and invariably the stories were fair and accurate. I always enjoyed talking with him and felt comfortable that what I said and the essence of the story would not be misconstrued.


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