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Monday, September 18, 2006

Duke Case: Death Spiral for The Herald-Sun

The Herald-Sun may be another casualty of the Duke rape hoax. The case has been an acid test for North Carolina journalists. It looks like the acid from this case may peel away the remaining dead flesh from the corpse of The Herald-Sun.

First some background. After 115 years of local ownnership, The Durham Herald-Sun was sold to the Paxton Media Group, a family-owned newspaper company based in Kentucky in early December 2004.

Following the purchase TheMediaDrop.com reported:

The News & Observer's David Ranii and Michael Biesecker cover the situation at the Durham Herald-Sun, whose sale to Paxton Media Group was announced in early December. According to their story, almost one-quarter of the newspaper's staffers were let go on Monday, the first day of Paxton's ownership. In what was described as the "first order of business" for the new owners, the Herald-Sun's publisher, two vice presidents, and the editor were cleared out in short order, followed by seventy-odd more employees.
The shakeup at the Herald-Sun drew the ire of Durham City Councilor Eugene Brown. On January 5, 2005, Councilor Brown said:
"This week, a Durham institution was changed and not necessarily for the better," he said. "The citizens of Durham deserve better."

After 115 years under the same local ownership, the paper was recently sold to the Paxton Media Group. On Monday within minutes of the sale, dozens of employees were let go.

"It is not good business to cut 25 percent of the workforce and expect employees' morale to remain high or expect Durham to continue to have a viable quality newspaper," Brown said.

Brown said the paper is more than just a business.

"They purchased a unique Durham institution that on a daily basis reflects the heart of our community," he said.

Brown tipped his hat to the former owners and management, then questioned the new owners' commitment to the community. He said Paxton Media puts profit above all else.
Then in January of this year the INDY Week reported:
No question, it's been a difficult year [2005] for the paper overall. Numbers from the Audit Bureau of Circulation released in November showed that The Herald-Sun's circulation plummeted in 2005. Weekday circulation fell 15 percent to 42,298; Sunday circulation fell 15.4 percent to 45,793; and Saturday fell a whopping 25.6 percent to 39,835. The Herald-Sun is by far the largest circulation newspaper in Paxton's chain; its flagship paper, the Paducah Sun, is less than 30,000. Newspapers all around are having a tough time, but The Herald-Sun's drop is worse than the industry average.

That brings us to today. LieStoppers does a breakdown of the breakdown at The Herald-Sun. Starting with editor Bob Ashley, who is an enabler of the hoax:

Bob Ashley
GWEN IFILL: You say there's politics involved into some of this?
BOB ASHLEY: I wouldn't suggest that.

The Herald-Sun has clearly added no value to the coverage of the Duke case or of the Raleigh bar dust up and subsequent investigation involving Durham police officers. Why do Durhamites need to subscribe to a media vestige, a non-functioning organ? How will their circulation numbers look after this hoax is finally revealed?

Jeff Jarvis asks "Do we need papers?"
Do we need newspapers? No. Do we need news and journalism and an informed democracy? Of course we do. But paper? Why? Too often, I hear editors pleading to save newspapers and newsrooms as their status quo is threatened by plummeting circulation, imploding advertising, impatient shareholders, multimedia youth and the Internet. Everyone is to blame for newspapers’ pickle, it seems, but the newspapers themselves.

Yet perhaps the era of newspapers as we now know them is simply over. Especially since broadcast killed competitive newspapers, they have become one-size-fits-all vehicles that cannot possibly be all things to all people; they may be convenient, but they are also inefficient and shallow compared with the depth of the Internet. Newspapers are inevitably stale next to broadcast and online. They are inefficient advertising vehicles for highly targeted sales - classifieds and very local retail. Newspapers are terribly expensive to produce and distribute in a marketplace where your competition is free.

The answer regarding The Herald-Sun is clear. No.

Sources:
Herald-Sun Sold To Kentucky-Based Group [wral.com, Dec. 3, 2004]
Paxton cleans house at Herald-Sun [themediadrop.com, Jan. 4, 2005]
Durham Councilman Criticizes Herald-Sun Sale, New Owners [wral.com, Jan 6, 2005]
Inside The Herald-Sun [IndyWeek.com, Jan. 18, 2006]
Meet the Enablers - Bob Ashley [LieStoppers, Sept. 18, 2006]
Inquirer column: Do we need papers? [buzzmachine.com, April 23, 2006]

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