Herald-Sun readers are gradually adjusting to the changes that took effect March 27. There have been some glitches as the newspaper became fully integrated operationally with The McClatchy Company but it’s gone fairly smoothly.
McClatchy purchased The Herald-Sun from Paxton Media Group on Dec. 21 and took control on Dec. 26, but the long transition wasn’t completed until late last month.
“I think we settled into the new routines and deadline pretty easily,” said Bob Ashley, editor of The Herald-Sun. “We continue to enrich our website. I think content-wise is much richer, much more video. Much greater range of breaking news. That’s going well.”
Creating the biggest headaches for print readers was the integration of the N&O and Herald-Sun delivery routes in the delivery areas of The Herald-Sun.
“We combined the routes, which also meant rearranging them to keep them balanced. We’re using the N&O distributor, so there were some carrier changes involved in that, too,” said Ashley, who added that delivery finally seemed to be going smoothly this week.
When the print edition shifted to the McClatchy template, the type size on stories got a little smaller. That’s been one of the biggest complaints from Herald-Sun readers, particularly from older readers.
“It’s not that discernible to me,” Ashley said. “I haven’t noticed a huge difference. Our research shows that once people are accustomed to that type size, it’s fairly legible. The headline fonts are bolder and I think that also creates the visual impression that the type is smaller than it is because of the ratio to that.”
The most obvious change for many other readers, particularly sports fans reading the print edition, is the earlier deadline that prevents night games from making the edition the next day … unless that game is in the Final Four.
The Herald-Sun and The N&O adjusted their deadlines to get North Carolina’s semifinal victory over Oregon and its win over Gonzaga in the NCAA final into print editions the next day. Both games made Durham’s one edition and both made most of the later editions of the Raleigh paper.
“We did some handstands; we knew it was important to get that in the paper in print for folks and we were able to do it,” Ashley said. “We had some late deliveries. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, any inconvenience we had for some late deliveries would have been way overshadowed had we not had the results. It required a lot of coordination between the people here, the people in Raleigh and certainly the people in Charlotte and in Garner at our print site.”
As for what other events would allow such deadline adjustments, Ashley said that could happen with an election day or a bowl game involving an area football team.
Last week, both newspapers got a little relief on deadlines. Durham’s deadline for the last page shifted from 6:55 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. and Raleigh’s deadline moved from 7:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.
“It allowed us to get the Masters in Sunday, which we wouldn’t have been able to do if it was a little bit earlier,” Ashley said. “It allowed us to get some live reporting from the vigil from N.C. Central.”
Because Durham’s press run is so short and it only has one edition, it doesn’t have nearly the flexibility to replate (or update) pages that Raleigh has with its multiple editions.
Ashley said that reader feedback has been mixed regarding the changes.
“We’ve had an encouraging amount of positive,” Ashley said. “I would be somewhat delusional if I said that one-third was positive; that’s somewhat routine. People tend to not call you up and say, ‘I really like that.’ ”
He said that a few readers have complained about missing Dear Abby.
“We’ve got a little bit of pushback on News & Observer copy in the paper, although when I tend to explain to people that’s only enriched copy we wouldn’t have had otherwise, they tend to be understanding that what we’re doing is supplementing each paper’s work with the other for stronger local coverage for both of us,” Ashley said.
He said that with the transition from Paxton’s Owensboro hub to McClatchy News Desk East in Charlotte, the newsroom in Durham has more of a chance to review pages before they go to press.
“We’re actually able to watch the pages assembled in real-time on our screens. We have better oversight than we did. We could see them before but the system was a little clunkier and if it was fixed you couldn’t really see it,” Ashley said. “We have the capability to do it. Do we have the time to do it correctly? No, which is why things will slip by still. But we have the capability to do that in real-time.”
Ashley said that The Herald-Sun soon will have a smartphone app for the first time but he wasn’t sure of the timetable.
Beginning April 23, Parade magazine, which has been part of The N&O, will also be included in the Durham paper on Sundays. The Herald-Sun hasn’t included a publication like that since USA Weekend ceased publication in December 2014.
Newspaper consolidation obvious at Final Four
The consolidation of print journalism was never more evident than during the Final Four.
North Carolina — with likely the largest fan base in the state — competing for a national title representing a college basketball crazy state would have meant multiple reporters from multiple daily newspapers in previous years.
Times have definitely changed.
The number of print journalists in Glendale, Ariz. to cover the Tar Heels’ championship was stunningly small — even compared to a year earlier in Houston — and that trend isn’t likely to change.
There were only five print writers for seven-days-a-week non-student North Carolina newspapers at University of Phoenix Stadium, and the work of all of them appeared in multiple newspapers. That’s half the number who covered the Tar Heels at the Final Four in Houston a year earlier.
Columnists Luke DeCock and Scott Fowler and UNC beat writer Andrew Carter provided coverage for three McClatchy Company newspapers in the state: The News & Observer, the Charlotte Observer and The Herald-Sun.
Adam Smith of The Times-News of Burlington wrote a game story that appeared in his newspaper and either online or in print in 10 other GateHouse newspapers in the state: The Courier-Tribune of Asheboro, The Fayetteville Observer, the Gaston Gazette, the Times-News of Hendersonville, The Daily News of Jacksonville, The Free Press of Kinston, The Dispatch of Lexington, the New Bern Sun-Journal, the Shelby Star and the Wilmington StarNews. Burlington sports editor Bob Sutton also was there providing coverage.
In addition, the UNC beat writer for the twice-weekly statewide North State Journal, Brett Friedlander, reported from Glendale.
Fowler didn’t cover UNC in Houston, but the Charlotte Observer sent him to Glendale partly to provide angles involving UNC’s Luke Maye and Kennedy Meeks and South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell.
The other four daily-newspaper reporters who were in Glendale also were in Houston. In addition, though, there were five other reporters who wrote about UNC in Houston who weren’t in Glendale. Many have moved onto other jobs.
Friedlander also was in Houston, but reporting for the Wilmington StarNews.
The Herald-Sun sent John McCann (now public relations coordinator for the Chatham County Schools) and Steve Wiseman to Houston, The Fayetteville Observer sent Bret Strelow (now with the Winston-Salem Journal) and Stephen Schramm (now a writer for Working at Duke) and the News & Record of Greensboro sent Powell Latimer (now digital editor at the Roanoke Times).
Although Durham and Fayetteville got coverage from their respective parent companies, neither sent writers to Glendale. BH Media newspapers The Winston-Salem Journal and the News & Record used wire copy from Arizona, supplementing it with stories from writers in North Carolina.
Layoffs in Winston-Salem and Greensboro
All of the above was far from the saddest news for North Carolina newspapers that came out of Final Four weekend. On the day of the NCAA final, the BH Media Group laid off 36 at the News & Record and 14 at the Winston-Salem Journal.
Among the nine laid off in the Greensboro newsroom was Jimmy DuPree, who the Paxton Media Group laid off as sports editor of The Herald-Sun in September 2013. He was assistant sports editor of the News & Record.
Among those let go at the Journal were Jewell Walston, who was the sports editor, and Scott Hamilton, who was its sports columnist.
The departure of Hamilton, who still is host for a daily afternoon drive-time sports radio talk show in the Triad, leaves DeCock, Fowler and the News & Record’s Ed Hardin as the only newspaper sports columnist in the state.