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N&O/H-S: A tale of two newsrooms

Writing about the N&O's budget cuts on Monday, I made note of what I had perceived to be an augmentation of the Pickett Rd. gang's newsroom:

"It's a relief to see no further cuts to the Durham newsroom, the presence of which is one of the best explanations I can find to the Herald-Sun's recent (and noticeable) beefing-up of its reporting staff after the Paxton blood-letting a few years back."

Turns out I was a bit eager in my assumptions. It's kind of like the Stockholm syndrome, you know? A case in which you come to show some loyalty and empathy for your kidnapper -- in this case, the small town pressers at Paxton who bought out Durham's treasure a few years back -- after you've been under their spell for long enough.

In this case, I was somehow making the connection between the presence of new bylines at the H-S and the conclusion that somehow, someway, Paxton was throwing more bodies at the local news. Ah, not so fast.

One of my readers here at BCR keeps an eye on such matters and corrected me in my calculations. In fact, the H-S actually lost three reporters in the winter to attrition; though one position was refilled a few months back, the other two new metro folks have appeared relatively recently.

In fact, if you check out the H-S' staff directory, you see a grand total of six "Metro" reporters, leaving aside columnist John McCann (the rationale for excluding same from the former category being left as an exercise for the reader.)

A number that just so happens to equal the number of Durham-focused reporters that the Raleigh News & Observer has.

If you think about it, that's actually a pretty staggering number to match, especially given that the N&O staff aren't under pressure to file stories daily -- though as a commenter here has noted, that could change in future rounds of McClatchy cutbacks. Still, it's a sign of how stretched the H-S staff are under the Paxton regime, having to put out a daily newspaper with the same size staff that puts out a weekly edition plus the occasional Durham daily.

It's also a staff that's about two-thirds the size of that which the Herald-Sun had under its previous, locally-based ownership. Which is a pretty depressing figure, when you stop to think about it.

So, just to be clear -- there hasn't been a sudden burst in hiring levels down at the Herald-Sun. It's just that the paper is back to its new-normal level, which is still less than it was a few years back. And which remains a sore point to a city that's used to being able to take maximum pride in its hometown news.

(To repeat a disclaimer made here earlier in the week, lest there be any concern over bias, I do write an occasional paid freelance column for the N&O -- though lest anyone think I'm not desirous of seeing the Herald-Sun succeed, I'd encourage a look back at this 2007 filing.)



My neighbor and I discussed the Herald-Sun over the fence last night. She, like I, cancelled her subscription after repeated delivery problems. The main problem is that "vacation stops" are not honored. We both had the experience of coming home after vacations to find piles of papers in the front yard. Vacation stop had been duly registered, but ignored. This happened to us both multiple times. I talked to the Herald-Sun rep about this no less than 10 times. I explicitly told them this this problem is the only reason I was cancelling my long-held subscription. They were not able to help me.


we had the HS delivered to us for at least three YEARS after we cancelled our subscription. we tried numerous times to get them to stop delivering the paper. one day, it just stopped coming. very Bull City.

Myers Sugg

I cancelled my subscription to the HS in April, due entirely to their employment of Mr. John McCann after almost 10 years of daily delivery. I find Mr. McCann to be a less than stellar writer, and someone who feels compelled to express his homophobic opinions on a seemingly regular basis. I know of at least 3 other people who had had enough after April's "tolerance" column, and cancelled.

The HS claims that Mr. McCann's opinions are only his. I am of the mindset that since the HS pays him and provides a regular forum for his writings, that they (HS) indirectly condone his narrow and willfully ignorant commentary. I find that his comments are divisive and do nothing but a disservice to Durham.

If the HS continues to lose readership at the rate they have in the last 2-3 years, I wonder whether they will even be viable in 10 years or less. See a clip from the N&O from 3 years ago about NC newspaper readership. I wonder what the current subcription numbers are now....

FROM NOVEMBER 2005 N&O BUSINESS SECTION (for a 6 month period)
"One notable exception was The Herald-Sun of Durham, a competitor to The News & Observer, which fared worse than the industry as a whole. The Herald-Sun's weekday circulation fell 15 percent to 42,298; Sunday circulation fell 15.4 percent to 45,793; and Saturday circulation fell 25.6 percent to 39,835."

As someone whose day is not complete without reading the morning paper, I have bid adieu to the HS. The N&O, NYT & great news sources like BCR are where I go now to be informed. Industrywide newspapers are in tough position. Unfortunately the HS has added fuel to its own fire, and created more of a reason to look elsewhere for news....

Myers Sugg

Dan S.

I recently noticed that the Herald-Sun's URL is no longer "www.herald-sun.com", but is "heraldsun.southernheadlines.com"... southernheadlines.com was purchased on March 13, 2008 -- through GoDaddy, by DomainsByProxy.

I wonder if this means that Paxton will soon dump the rest of the H-S's web staff, consolidate their southeastern online news, and turn the formerly award-winning website (prior to 2005, of course) into a clone of their Paducah website (something it has done with most of its papers' online sites -- the H-S is one of the few holdouts). If I may point out -- the Paducah Sun's website currently has a very prominent (and seizure inducing) "Miss a day... Miss a lot..." //marquee// that runs //infinitely// across the top of their website (yes, duration is set to "infinite"). They might as well start using the //blink// tag again, and roll out the animated gif's.

Given the anemic staff and their poor standards of journalism (with an exception or two), it's no wonder that the Herald-Sun has seen the largest overall decline in readership of any paper in N.C. (10.8% last year, vs less than 1% for the N&O). The daily and Sunday readership is almost half of what it was in 2003, and for the first time, Sunday subscriptions are below weekday ones, a very bad sign for the future of any newspaper, let alone one run by a company with such a fine reputation for shuttering operations at the drop of a hat.

Personally, I think a couple of Chihuahuas with a Selectric II and a mimeograph machine could do a better job of running the H-S than Paxton -- a company founded with a government handout to a failed grocer, which has run such newsworthy headlines as "Don't Vote Democratic" and Op-Eds promising no changes to newspapers after purchase (then, they cut the entire staff the following week) in their fine, upstanding birdcage liners.

Dan S.

@ Myers: The H-S's wikipedia entry is accurate for circulation from 2003-present (at least until another H-S staffer makes selective "anonymous" edits, again):

And then, there's this blog entry about overall declines in NC newspaper readership:

Jonathan Jones


I noticed the same thing about the URL. The High Point Enterprise is now on the same domain with its page being hpe.southernheadlines.com. So far that's the only other Paxton paper I've found on it though. It's curious, for sure.


As you'll see if you follow the links Dan provided (thanks for the one to my page, btw) the Herald's circulation has continued to fall since that 2005 article.

Former HS employee

Actually, the H-S has no Web staff in the strict sense. In most cases, a copy editor is responsible for posting local stories/photos once the print edition has gone to bed. The sports department folks handled their items in the same fashion.

On the day shift, breaking news usually was posted by a senior editor. Sometimes a dayside copy editor would do it. However, I'm not sure if that position exists anymore.

The delivery problems continue? How sad. The new management vowed to take care of it. Surprised, I am not.

Samantha E.

A fairly short time after the "new management" took over the H-S, the paper implemented the first of what have since been several changes to the Web site. I was unhappy with what they'd done with the design at that time, and wrote one of the editors at an e-mai listed on the Web site to express my disappointment. I eventually got a reply back, stating that the newsroom no longer had anything to do with the Web site, and that it was run by the classifieds department, to whom my complaint was being forwarded. I never heard anything further. Perhaps this is standard for newspapers; either way, it's a sad state of affairs.


Kevin, you're more charitable than I am. I find the H-S uniformly awful, both online and in print, and am not sad or surprised to hear about its circulation troubles. If it did go, it would be a loss to the community, sure, but we'd get by. I'd also be interested to see the average age of their subscribers, as I expect it's rising rapidly.

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