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H-S announces more layoffs and changes -- cryptically

Rumors have been flying for the last day about some manner of change at the Herald-Sun, which has gone through its share of turmoil in the last several years since the hometown paper's sale from local ownership to small-market chain Paxton Media.

Today's H-S confirms further reorganization -- read, cost-cutting -- in both the operational and newsroom aspects of the paper. Still, it's not quite clear exactly what these changes will mean for readers of the paper.

Here's what we know at this point:

First, the Herald-Sun will be laying off staff, "fewer than 10" positions company-wide, according to editor Bob Ashley's column today. These layoffs include newsroom as well as non-newsroom staff... though Ashley goes out of his way to note that the paper will be "reploy[ing]" some staff to fill vacant newsroom positions and to add a reporter slot.

Ashley describes these changes as part of an effort to "restructure our editing and production," which implies to this observer that Paxton may be cutting back there and moving staff from that arena to the reporting team.

Second, the paper -- already thin on some days -- looks to shrink even further, likely a reflection of the shrinking advertising revenue and demand in the print world. Thursday's Healthy Living section and Saturday's Faith and Family section are axed, replaced by condensed or merged versions of same in those days' Metro sections.

And there's this worrisome bit: while noting that the paper is working to "produce more local stories," Ashley implies this is a change to add breadth, not depth:

Frankly, we'll be looking to some folks to rethink their jobs so that we'll produce more local stories - and concentrating on how best to present information, with more sidebars, informational boxes and other devices supplementing stories that themselves will be shorter.

Less-length, more-info? Sounds to this outside observer like a way to cut newsprint and ink costs, allowing the paper to condense editorial content into a slightly leaner form. (And hopefully not a reflection on the perceived level of desire in the community for analytical, insightful reporting.)

It's clear from the phraseology in the article that Ashley's announcement reflects at best a high-level introduction to what's changed here. Worrisome phrases abound in the piece, like "asking more of our editors," "rethink the way we approach our work," "avoiding extraneous information," "innovative ways" to meet challenges.

Sounds like a call to work smarter and work harder -- not exactly the kind of clarion call one hopes to see in one's hometown paper.

We'll have more on this one as we learn it. Update: The Indy's Fiona Morgan has more details.


Steve Nicewarner

In many ways, newspapers are in the gray zone of information delivery. If we want a quick summary of an event, we go to television where the soundbite rules, and if we want something in-depth we go to the internet where there are no time or space constraints. In response, newspapers have tried to move to one extreme or the other. USA Today [aka "McPaper"] is a prime example of the newspaper medium moving towards the soundbite model of news delivery.

The comments you noted above clearly mean the H-S has decided to also go with the soundbite model and leave the in-depth coverage to the Independent. Whether the two newspapers will provide a good contrast remains to be seen.


Seems like you will need to quit your Real Job, Kevin, so you can cover the local news in Durham given that both the H-S and the N&O are abdicating the role.

Jonathan Jones

Way to bury the lede there Bob. Takes 12 graphs before you get to the news: They've fired more people.

It's sad, to me, that an editor would with straight face attempt to deliver a variation of the tired theme "We'll do more with less." His job is supposed to be about telling the truth.

Even if they do manage to "produce more local stories" as the editor expects, one has to question the quality or usefulness of those stories.

The move to elminate jobs is no surprise though. Paxton laid off several people at its "flagship" Kentucky properties two weeks ago:

Kevin, I'm not sure "less-length, more-info" translates into a desire to save paper and ink costs. If they're looking at it for that reason, they're way off target. I think it's a desire to have the appearance of abundant local news, while carrying a much smaller staff and payroll.

If they wanted to save paper and ink they probably would have killed the standalone business section, reduced newshole and gone to a smaller web width. Many newspapers have gone to smaller width printing, meaning a narrower paper.

I would have much preferred they go to a smaller paper size to save money while carrying a larger news staff. I'd rather have a quality local news report than a bunch of wire stuff.


Media has changed and the Triangle will be lucky to support one daily paper. it looks like that paper will be the N&O.

Myers Sugg

Agreed Wes. The Herald Sun is a fleeting operation. It's sad but true. Certainly part of its decline is no different than the rest of the industry, but the H-S has itself to blame too. I'd still be a subscriber (as would several of my friends) if there wasn't as much overwhelming support by Mr. Ashley (et al) for John McCann, mediocre columnist, and outspoken homophobe....

Myers Sugg


Myers - John McCann was also the main reason I cancelled my Herald-Sun subscription. I'm not sure if he's being directly paid by the John Locke Foundation, but I remember finding some of his articles linked to on the John Locke Foundation website. I got the sense that he was a black columnist intentionally placed in the Durham market to act like he was speaking for some sort of black republican movement in the city. On top of that, he's just a terrible writer. Ignoring McCann (and the Herald-Sun) is probably the most appropriate response, and I'm happy not to be receiving his drivel on my doorstep each morning.


The Herald-Sun having been founded by the Rollins family, I am of course sorry to see it sink to such depths. I should add that their behavior during the lacrosse hoax was deplorable, and rightly recognized as such by a lot of the demographic the H-S would so dearly love to keep as subscribers. It's no wonder the duke student body voted to switch to the N&O.

Not all of the blame can be lain at the feet of Bob Ashley -- just most of it. Watching the H-S slowly being strangled by Paxton has become an amusing if bittersweet experience for those of my relatives who had an interest in the paper. At least it didn't happen on our watch.


My 2 biggest complaints about the H-S are: 1) the so-called "local news" emphasis really just means more mediocre stories about Durham and 2) John McCann.

The H-S claims to cover Durham, Orange, Chatham, Granville and Person counties. When was the last news story written about Person County? To read most print stories about Orange or Chatham counties you have to buy the paper in Orange or Chatham counties. Essentially, the H-S sold in Durham has a lot of local Durham stories and at least one Granville story that also ran in the Henderson paper. Some of the mediocre or "small-townish" Durham stories could be turned into better coverage of the surrounding area or more in-depth Durham coverage.

John McCann, to be the featured columnist, is a terrible writer. I'm often left scratching my head as to what point he was trying to make. He just strings together 2 or 3 rants (which are usually offensive) and the H-S plasters it down the left side of the "Metro" page.

On the positive side, the sports section usually does a good job covering UNC, Duke and more often than not, State. And they're the only paper in town with full coverage of the Bulls (but only home games).

Granville Guy

I would hate for the Raleigh N&O to be the only newspaper covering Durham. To me, many of their Durham centric articles have a condescending tone or tend to highlight a negative aspect about Durham. The Durham News is a appeasing effort but it’s mainly seen by Durhamites and is not what they tell the rest of the world about your city.

If the Herald – Sun is failing, I would suggest Durhamites help support it, change it or create an alternative. Don’t lose your local voice, especially to the rah rah Raleigh rag.


I agree with Granville Guy -- we will have a significant loss if and when the Herald-Sun prints its last paper. I try to support it and I hope something or someone can change it or create an alternative. I guess this blog (and others) have already become an alternative (and I read this one every day).

As far as smaller widths -- The Sanford Herald already publishes a narrower newspaper (literally). As does the Burlington Times-News. Isn't the Sanford paper also owned by these Paducah folks?


IMO they need to switch to a broadsheet format (e.g., the NY Post). More pictures, less news, and "edgier".

The future of midmarket dailies is free distribution in those cities with a decent mass transit system. Durham will be there in about 20 years, and hopefully the H-S can hang on until then.


David - for a newspaper guy, you should know the difference between "broadsheet" and "tabloid."


Thanks, guess I'm still jetlagged. Good thing I didn't go into the newspaper biz. :-)


No one in this blog has yet taken note of a major misstatement made by former Herald-Sun publisher Moser in the paper's Feb. 22 edition. He said circulation was in the 38,000 realm. The authoritative Audit Bureau of Circulation reported just a few weeks later that the true figure was about 32,8000 -- a discrepancy of more than 5,000. The Herald-Sun has yet to publicly acknowledge or correct the error. Or was it deliberate deception rather than error? So much for Paxton Media Group's credibility as a communications company.


Obviously, I made a typo in the preceding post, inserting an extra zero in one of the numbers. The March Herald-Sun circulation as reported by the Audit Bureau of Circulation was about 32,800 and not 32,8000. Wouldn't it be nice if Paxton corrected its misstatements (or deliberate attempts at deception) this quickly? The bottom line is simple: the company overstated its circulation by more than 5,000 and never bothered even to acknowledge the error, much less correct it.


Does anyone know if the latest round included columnist Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan? It was refreshing to see one day a week that wasn't John McCann.

Former H-S'er

Paxton and Co. could not have screwed things up any worse if they'd had a blueprint. They paid far too much for The Herald-Sun, promptly canned its most talented staffers and gutted its locally produced content under the mistaken belief that Durham readers would be too stupid to divine that their "improved" newspaper had in fact been eviscerated. Mix in the current recession and the drain of ad revenue to the likes of Google and Craigslist, and it's conceivable The Herald-Sun might not last the decade.

David -- from which branch of the Rollins tree do you hail? I remember Steed and Amy (Steed Rollins' adopted children) and Tyler and Lawson (ET's boys).

Amy Sheehan

Regarding: David -- from which branch of the Rollins tree do you hail? I remember Steed and Amy (Steed Rollins' adopted children) and Tyler and Lawson (ET's boys).

Posted by: Former H-S'er | August 05, 2008 at 05:23 PM

I am Amy Rollins you referenced above
I am now known as Amy Sheehan - google AmySheehan if you wish
I wanted to state that I do not know DAVID Rollins.
I am a member of numerous Computer Security societies and websites specializing in Symantec product development and issues.

Amy Sheehan
Huntington Beach, CA
Proud Member of ASAP
DSLR Phishtracker

Host of Symantec and Norton forums at and AdAware help forum

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