Herald Tightens Its Belt

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.



Along those lines, I've noticed a gaggle of new syndicated columnists on their main editorial pages. Haven't evaluated them all yet but it could hardly be worse than Walter Williams and George Will.

It would seem clear that they're planning to kill off the Chapel Hill edition. Swimming in syndicated columnists ... this will not tend to engage the local community.

As for the other stuff, the paper has cut a number of people who needed to go, but the fact is that the quality of the paper overall is very poor now and rather than expanding the website, they're squeezing it down, too. Bigger pictures and many copy errors, as Mark said.

I agree, by the way, that John Cole's cartoons seemed to sometimes be just plain mean. That one of Moses Carey about the merger debate really stands out in my mind. Cheap shots.

Oh, if only we had the loot to start up something new ...

I couldn't let Jean's first comment (relative to the Chapel Hill edition) go without saying that she just plain doesn't know what she's talking about. I can't say more about this, but I have information and I'm quite certain she has nothing but speculation.

Take anything you read in the N&O or the Indy about the Herald's situation with a grain of salt. These are competing businesses with axes to grind and competitive positions to enhance.

I fail to understand why there's been no criticism in this forum of the N&O's parent, McClatchy, in connection with its much-reported and completely undenied bid for the H-S.

If you believe they put in an offer because they wanted to run two papers in the Triangle, you clearly also believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, yetis and the Loch Ness Monster. Their intent was obviously to secure a monopoly position in this market for the N&O and if they had succeeded, there would have been 353 layoffs on Pickett Road and Mallette Street, not 81. Their bid was a predatory act, and for all the talk here about media diversity, it's surprising that no one has spoken up against it.

I didn't know about the N&O's bid--VERRRRRY INTERESTING.

I take back most of the nasty things I've said about the CH Herald. They gave our production of "The Music Man" press--when the CH News totally blew us off. (Told us they'd already covered that story the LAST show we did.) To date we've raised $62,000 for the Friederich's Ataxia Research Alliance and money is still coming in.

Here is a link to the archived article--may not be able to get to it if you aren't a subscriber...

Talk about little efforts making a big difference--at the last performance of hte show Ron Bartek (President of FARA) told us that the research grant money raised by out first two shows funded a researcher who had just received a $1,000,000 NIH grant for further Friederich's research. This grant proposal was put together with data generated by the research grant money FARA granted him--which The United Church Players funded. We used to refer to him as "our" scientist...but he's gone beyond what WE can supply! The money from MM is going to fund a post doc...in La Jolla, I think. Perhaps he or she will become our NEW scientist!

SO--a big thank you to the CH Herald for realizing that just because a story has been "done" (local family raises money for research) it doesn't hurt do it again!

Besides--Vicki Wentz's columns are hilarious, dead on target--that woman is willing to SAY what many of us THINK.

Ray says: I can't say more about this, but I have information...

Speaking of believing in the tooth fairy! Unless you share the truth with the public, you should expect speculation and rumor, Ray. If we don't know the facts, it's no-one's fault but your own.

And while I think it's generally good for papers to have to compete with each other to keep quality up, in this case it hasn't been articulated what we have to lose (besides more jobs in Durham) should the N&O take over the Herald-Sun.

For anyone who would like to decide for herself how well the Herald-Sun is doing, here's a scorecard you can use.


My purely anecdotal observation of the online version is more consistent with Jean's claims. For example, no more Chapel Hill/Carrboro letters to the editors. More feel-good human interest stories rather news.

Melanie--congrats on the success of your show and the good work you all are doing.

Ruby, there are two terms from the software world that come to mind as I read your call for "sharing." One is "vaporware"; I'd think it'd be obvious that talk is cheap and anyone can make promises they can't or don't intend to keep.

The other is FUD -- fear, uncertainty and doubt. Jean's comment about "killing off the Chapel Hill edition" is an example of FUD. And I reacted because people might think that she, being an ex-columnist for the CHH, has some special knowledge or insight that lends her opinion credibility. She doesn't. She was a contract columnist, not an employee, and no matter its ownership, the H-S has not been in the habit of discussing corporate business strategy with contract columnists.

As for Terri's claim that we're running "more feel-good human interest stories rather than news," I say there's nothing to that. What has happened is that we've pushed national wire copy off A-1, on the theory that people see those stories on TV or on the Web long before they show up in print.

If you actually look at what's being published, I think you'll see we're doing the same stories we always have.

Consider Thursday's paper. A-1 led with a story about a Duke physicians group halting treatment of veterans because the VA isn't paying enough for said treatment. I'd say that's pretty darn important locally. On the right side we have the story about the Peterson transcript. I'm not one who's kept track of every turn in that case, but the news that it's doing to appeal is pretty important because the outcome of the trial was so surprising. Below the fold we have a wire story on the state budget, which matters greatly to about 50,000 people who live and/or work in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. Over to the left we have the latest hoohah from the Durham school board, in a story that addresses questions about the proper relationship between elected officials and the public.

Then finally we have the mall-walkers story. In days past that might -- might -- have been relegated to the metro section, but we still would have done it and now it's only taking the place of something like the story on A-4 about Bush's trip to Europe -- a wire story that was about 18 hours old by the time it reached people's breakfast table.

The CHH front is no different. We led with the forum on the 300 E. Main project in Carrboro, and would have at any point in the past. Also above the fold were the DEDC's recommendation on the Village Apartments and the official ruling on Deborah Key's death. No soft stuff there. Below the fold we have an advance on the Dance Marathon, which we do every year and is the kind of story Melanie praises us for doing. And finally there's the Chatham watershed debate, which again is pretty hard stuff.

I suppose people looking to accuse us of going soft can use the Moeser-reading-to-kids pictures as a point of attack, but their appearance has nothing to do with any policy laid down by new ownership. We've always made a practice of having two pieces of art on the CHH front.

Bottom line: I'd be happy to see anyone apply that Stanford grade-the-news thing to our product any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

Ray--please note that my 'claim' was clearly labelled as purely anecdotal and referencing only the online version of the paper. Do you know why they stopped printing letters to the editors for the Orange edition?

It's hard for me to reconcile the idea that they're going to deep-six the CHH edition, when they've just added a sub-banner to the banner that reads something like, "Covering Orange and Chatham Counties," in a Carolina blue font. That might seem minor, but it's the kind of change that isn't made lightly, and it has meaning. From my perch down here in Pittsboro, I've noticed more front-page (CHH) coverage of Chatham county recently, and not just Briar Chapel.

Thanks for your input, Ray, but I think the only FUD going on here is yours … specifically, your imagining that anyone would assume that a fired contractor would have some inside special information on top management's strategic plans. How ridiculous.

My credibility doesn't come from any false claim of inside information. It comes from a record of independence and integrity. Were I to be reporting such information, I would offer a source or two.

Meanwhile, you suggest that you have “information” … good for you. I provided my opinion, which is that I believe the management of the Herald-Sun is deliberately killing the Chapel Hill Edition, specifically by running all those freakin' syndicated columns (but not limited to that). I don't subscribe to the CHH to read the New York TImes. None of the local columnists who remain (with the possible exception of Dan) are writing about substantive, controversial local issues - the heart and soul of a small community newspaper's value. Now it's all a one-way communication valve of what you guys think, sprinkled with local opinion about fluff. With apologies to “Coffee Talk's” Linda Richman, y'all go ahead and talk amongst yourselves.

You are entitled to your opinion, Ray, as am I – more freely now than ever. I believe (bunnies aside) that eliminating the CHH is your management's intent. I also see no evidence on this site – NONE – that suggests that any reader believed that I must know something special – only your tantrum insisting that I don't. Of course, maybe I'm wrong and they're just wrecking the content of the paper because they're incompetent.

And as long as we're on this rant, let me share with you, Ray … a lot of people are of the opinion that the paper stinks since Paxton took over. As for the bid, I read that McClatchy inquired but never submitted a bid (also reported and not refuted), but I certainly don't claim to know. After all, if I did that, I'd expect to substantiate it or clam up - not a problem for you, apparently.

Finally, if you're correct and McClatchy did bid on the Herald-Sun, I quite agree that you'd be on the street right now, not writing on blogs saying “nuh-uh” on behalf of the paper.

In the end, Paxton has done what they've done elsewhere, but cost-cutting is no substitute for commitment to the reader, vision or leadership, all of which are desperately lacking at the Paxton-$un.

The important thing in Jean's latest is her admission that no reporting informed her "killing off the Chapel Hill edition" crack. She's entitled to her opinion, but she should expect some criticism if she's going to throw unsupported comment about people's jobs and careers around.

To those of you confused by the situation, I'd suggest paying close attention to what Duncan has to say. I don't say that to suggest he has inside info; it's that he's a astute, observant professional who is independent, unafraid and possessed of good judgment. His basic good will is also not in question.

Both Fiona Morgan and Richard Hart of the Indy have said in print that McClatchy was actively trying to buy the H-S. Fiona reported that they in fact put in a bid. Given the connections that Richard and Kirk Ross have at the N&O, I'd suppose that their take on this particular aspect of the thing is pretty solid.

Terri, I can't say much about the letters situation, except that it grows out of a bit of internal politics, some concerns about workload, and a healthy dose of trouble caused by a particularly intractable piece of software.

Anyone feel that chill in the air? Now I should offer only my well-supported comments because jobs are at stake?

Oh, my goodness, Ray.

To be clear, I noticed these changes that Duncan mentioned as well. I know that Paxton has send some vibes that they're very interested in the future development of the CHH. I hope they do it, Ray, I just don't believe they will and I observe evidence that seems much to the contrary.

As for the jobs ... it's more important that the community is at stake. We need a healthy, vibrant organ in our community newspaper and its opinion page both in print and online. We're not getting it. My criticism (and that of many, many others) is focused on improving the situation. Shouting it down isn't going to save anyone's job.

Ray et al at the CHH,

Instead of defending yourself against
fears expressed by others that the CH Herald is going belly up, I think it would be more helpful if you or your editorial and business staff would write an article
that describes your plans for the future
of the CHH.

Of course, when we read and see on TV
that the N&O will make a big push for
Durham readers, we take it with a grain
of salt, knowing that the two papers
are competitors. We also know however,
that there are a finite number of readers
and more importantly advertisers out there
in the triangle.

Personally, I would hate to lose the
CH Herald, for its CH-Carr coverage
far exceeds that of the N&O. But we
subscribers do need some assurances.

Stand by for announcements of the hiring of familiar faces at the Chapel Hill News. That is all.

The following column by CHH Editor Neil Offen appeared in Sunday's paper. It's important and worth posting here in full:

Your Chapel Hill Herald is going to be late starting this week. And we think that's a very good thing.

I don't mean it's going to be late getting to your doorstep or your driveway. Delivery of the newspaper will be the same as it's always been.

What I do mean is that you're going to be getting more late news in The Chapel Hill Herald than ever before.

As the only daily newspaper devoted to Orange and Chatham counties, the CHH always has considered itself the paper of record for the area. That has meant, for nearly 17 years, that if it happened around here, we covered it. If a town or county government body met, we were there.

If most of the state of North Carolina celebrated Halloween on Franklin Street, we were there. If a renowned speaker came to the university, we were there.

However, our stories about those events were not always there in The Chapel Hill Herald.

This is probably the time to mention, in the interests of full (and personal) disclosure, that I admit I don't fully understand newspaper production issues; I'm not exactly certain how these words get from my computer to your newspaper.

But I do know that because of production and press issues, the CHH deadline — that is, when our stories have to be completed and reach our editors and designers — has always been around 7 p.m. Because of that early deadline, stories that happened in the nighttime, stories that we covered but happened after our deadline, could not appear in The Chapel Hill Herald.

Instead, these CHH stories would appear in the Durham section of The Herald-Sun, our mother paper, or in the lead news or “A” section of the paper.

We did our best to direct readers to those stories, to let them know that an article on, say, last night's Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board meeting was on page C-7. We did it with, perhaps, a little box or a picture or some text. But frankly, we know that didn't always work.

A number of times I have received phone calls or e-mails from readers asking where our report was on a particular event, or why we didn't cover some meeting — when we did. Conditioned to look for an Orange or Chatham story in, naturally, The Chapel Hill Herald, they didn't notice the story was actually elsewhere. It was there. It was just separated from the rest of the Orange and Chatham news.

Readers thought it was a problem; we thought so, too.

We believe we've now fixed that problem.

Thanks to the excellent work of Chuck Friend, The Herald-Sun's production chief, and Ed Rose, the circulation head, starting Monday The Chapel Hill Herald will have new, significantly later deadlines. Those stories we wrote about the Town Council or the Board of Aldermen will now appear the next day in the place you expect to find them — in the pages of The Chapel Hill Herald.

Some of the more observant readers may have noticed over the last couple of weeks that we've had two trial runs of these later deadlines already. Those experiments have allowed us to write about an evening meeting of, for example, the Orange County Commissioners and the Carrboro Board of Aldermen for the next day's paper, and know that you'll be able to see those reports where you expect them.

So what do these new deadlines mean to you? They mean that The Chapel Hill Herald will be even more of a full-service newspaper. They mean that our commitment to covering all the news in our community, every day, has been strengthened and that the newspaper you will be reading will be more complete, more essential to your understanding of what's going on where you live.

We want to bring you more local news seven days a week, and this change in deadlines will help us do that.

We're very excited about what we really consider a new era for The Chapel Hill Herald. We hope you will be, too.

Ray, this is great but....any idea when the letters to the editor and editorial opinions (other than the CHH's) will reappear on your website? It's a great convenience.

Now a little commentary on the change of deadlines and what it means about the direction of the CHH:

In the 17 years of the CHH has been published, every editor of the paper has lamented the fact that we had to bury coverage of nighttime meetings deep in the metro section.

Every editor has asked for later deadlines — and until January, the response was always that we were up against intractable production problems that ruled out any possibility of change.

Again, that was 17 years' worth of getting "no" for an answer from people outside the newsroom. Say what you want about the paper's new owners, but note this: They fixed this problem in just a bit more than two months.

Understand also that when Paxton corporate types visited the Mallette Street office in December after the purchase was announced, Neil told them, in front of the entire staff, that a change in deadline was the single most important thing the new ownership could do to improve the Chapel Hill Herald.

This wasn't something directed from Kentucky; the request originated on Mallette Street.

When I first posted on this thread back in February, I did so knowing that this change was in train. I had to bite my tongue when Ruby and Jean questioned my credibility. The test-runs Neil spoke of in his column were still pending, and until they'd been completed we couldn't be sure the production changes necessary to bring this off would work.

(By the way, the second test, and the first one apparent to the public, included our coverage of the Town Council's debate on same-sex marriage that was blogged here. In the past, that story would not have appeared in the Chapel Hill Herald. Now, it can.)

We also maintained silence to preserve the element of surprise relative to our competitors. We think we succeeded in this, despite the well-publicized personnel shift that's been the focus of another thread.

As a professional, one of the most disappointing things to me that's occurred since Jan. 3 has been the willingness of our competitors to use their news columns to spread rumors and FUD about the Herald-Sun in hopes of gaining a business advantage. The speculation about the potential closure of the CHH and how several pressroom layoffs might bear on that has been the single most annoying example. I wonder how the people who put that in print (Jean? Fiona?) would square what they've said on this subject with what we've actually done.

To Ray's point, I'm glad that Neil stood up for this important issue and even better is the news that the new management actually stopped the lame excuse train and fixed this problem.

As far as questioning Ray's credibility goes, I don't … not exactly. I question his perspective. I think that it's nearly impossible for Ray or other longtime Herald-Sun staffers to be objective about what is lacking at the paper and what has suffered since the takeover. Yanking the letters to the editor off the website was a decision that many of us (readers) don't agree with. The excuse is money/resources, the real reason? Who knows?

My major grievance with the CHH is not on the news side (though I think that has suffered too), but rather the editorial page, where local voices of substantive LOCAL criticism have (with rare exception) fallen silent. With all due respect, I don't look to Vickie or Rolland for insight on merger or key growth issues.

I've said it before, I'll say it again. I don't subscribe the the CHH to read the NY Times editorials.

This may not be the best forum for this message, but it does relate to a newspaper and budget problems. The Greensboro News and Record wasn't bought out like the Herald Sun, but they do have circulation and budget problems. To solve those problems, they are experimenting with redesigning the paper as a series of blogs...an experiment that has captured the imagination of many media watchers. I think Paul Jones posted something about this a while ago, but a new article was published today that tells more about their redesign experiment.

N.C. Newspaper Uses Blogs to Reach Readers

Terri, your comments are on target, especially considering the CHH has actually reduced their online presence by dropping the online Letters to the Editor.

Not only has Ed Cone has been commenting on the G'boro media revolution, but (apologies to RantingP) also the NYTimes.

Romanesko at Pointer has done a good job on the News and Record changes. Dan Gillmor at his blog has also written about it. Jay Rosen at NYU has some good insights. There are many more.
But the best places to read about the "inside baseball" view is at the News and Record itself.
The editor, John Robinson, keeps a good log and is very open about the changes and experiments going on there.

CHH Editor Neil Offen has a Forum piece in today's paper (can't find a link) announcing that Ray Gronberg will become the Durham County reporter for The Herald-Sun. The new Orange County and Hillsborough reporter will be Emily Coakley. (Also, the new Chatham County and Carrboro reporter is Jennifer Ferris.)

I will miss Ray and all of the knowledge that he brought to his reporting. As Neil wrote in the headline, "Wonk: Every newspaper needs one." Ray, you've been a good one!

Fred, I was just lamenting this news...

Ray, why are you doing this? This hurts me. I counted on you to keep on top of things. I really enjoyed your intensity. What a loss!

Ruby, Dan, this deserves a new thread. I'd do the thread for you, but I can't link the Offen piece!

I agree, I'd love to start a thread about this, but I only read the papers online, so I'm in the dark...



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