My journalist heart breaks a little more as The Durham Herald-Sun moves copy desk to Kentucky

13 Aug

When I worked at The Herald-Sun we had a food critic. We had a religion reporter. A health reporter. A court reporter. A cops reporter. A county government reporter. An associate editorial page editor. An illustrator. A librarian. An obituary clerk.

And we had a lot more. When I worked at The Herald-Sun we had a full-time copy desk.

After tonight, there will no longer be a copy desk at Durham, North Carolina’s hometown newspaper.

Just like all those other positions we had when I worked there, the local copy desk is being eliminated. Page design and copy editing of the Durham, NC, newspaper will soon take place 622 miles away, in the Owensboro (Kentucky) Messenger-Inquirer newsroom.

When I worked at The Herald-Sun in 2004, I was one about 90 newsroom employees. When the copy desk is officially dissolved, only 20 editorial employees will reportedly remain.

In 2007, I spotted all these newspaper boxes behind The Herald-Sun's building. The paper's circulation was an estimated 50,000 in 2006 and stands at about 25,000 today.
In 2007, I spotted all these newspaper boxes behind The Herald-Sun’s building. The paper’s circulation was an estimated 50,000 in 2006 and stands at about 25,000 today.

Layoffs Were Once Unexpected

Newsroom layoffs aren’t surprises anymore. But they were seven years ago, when I took my first newspaper reporting job at The Herald-Sun. I was fresh out of grad school and landed the city hall beat at a 50,000-circulation family-owned newspaper. I thought I made it.

I packed all the clothes I could stuff into my VW Golf and took my first road trip half way across the country. I didn’t know anyone in North Carolina. Not a soul. But I didn’t care. I just scored a job at a family-owned newspaper. That meant job security. That meant excellent health insurance and Christmas bonuses. That meant working for a newspaper with soul.

I still remember the day the Paxton Media Group bought the 50,000-circulation newspaper from the Rollins family, which owned the paper for nearly 110 years. For months there were rumors that the paper was being sold. But we didn’t know who would buy us. And we certainly didn’t know what it would mean for our future.

The morning the deal went down in late 2004, I passed editor-in-chief Bill Hawkins on my way to the copy machine. I asked him how he was, not because I thought anything was wrong, but because that’s what you say when you pass the editor-in-chief in the hall. “Not good,” he said, and then walked into his office.

An hour or so later Hawkins was one of about 80 employees who were laid off. Employees were escorted to their cars. They couldn’t collect their belongings. They couldn’t say goodbye. They were part of the first sweeping newsroom layoffs in our country. Not long after that, layoffs like these would become business as usual for newspapers, with thousands of journalists losing jobs.

After that day, paranoia would sweep over me every time an editor walked down my row of cubes. I always thought I was one day away from getting laid off. So much for job security.

Circulation Starts to Sink

When I started at The Herald-Sun, the circulation was roughly 50,000. I thought I would work there for three to five years before looking for my next reporting gig at a bigger newspaper. Less than a year after the paper was sold, I started looking for a new journalism job. Newsroom morale was low. We were doing more with less. We weren’t delivering the same quality, hometown journalism that previously kept Durham residents from subscribing to our more sophisticated McClatchy-owned competitor, The News & Observer. After the sale, some Bull City residents even tossed their newspapers back into our parking lot.
I still have business cards leftover from my days at The Herald-Sun.

I still have business cards leftover from my days at The Herald-Sun.

I landed at The Island Packet, a McClatchy paper serving Hilton Head Island, SC, and the surrounding mainland communities. The circulation was small, about 22,000, but I was lured by the ocean and the prospect of moving up the McClatchy chain. That was before McClatchy bought Knight Ridder, the poorly-timed deal that saddled the company with so much debt it will likely never recover.

Some of my journalist friends questioned my decision to leave a 50,000-circulation newspaper for one less than half its size. But now, six years later, The Herald-Sun reportedly only maintains a circulation of about 25,000. Meanwhile, the small-town Island Packet is still holding on to its 22,000 readers.

I can’t imagine what morale must be like in that newsroom these days. But I have deep respect for the remaining journalists who help publish the paper every day. It’s just a shame that the Bluegrass State will soon have a hand in designing and proofreading our Bull City newspaper. But, sadly, The Herald-Sun is not alone.

Now This Is A Trend

In June, the Raleigh News & Observer announced it was transferring its copy editing and page design desk to Charlotte. And newspapers throughout the country are making similar moves (which almost always result in layoffs), according to the Chicago Tribune.

Me and my page designer gals, Andrea and Laura, being silly during one of our Girls Night Out adventures.

Me and my page designer gals, Andrea and Laura, being silly during one of our Girls Night Out adventures.

The best thing I got out of The Herald-Sun’s copy desk ended up having little to do with copy editing or design. Instead, I got friendship. A few page designers took me under their wings when I first moved to Durham and didn’t know a soul. They wined me and dined me. They were my first North Carolina friends.

Six years after leaving the paper, we still get together for dinner every other month or so despite living an hour apart, picking up right where we left off. And because of everything we went through at The Herald-Sun and as print journalists in general, we’ll always have a special bond that no layoffs, furloughs or pay cuts can ever take away.

(P.S. If you see any errors in this blog post, it’s because I didn’t have a copy editor).

11 Responses to “My journalist heart breaks a little more as The Durham Herald-Sun moves copy desk to Kentucky”

  1. Marshall Sherard KE4ZNR August 13, 2011 at 10:40 am #

    Thank you for sharing this part of your life with everyone Ginny. Even though we are both “Interweb Geeks” I know we both share a love of good old fashioned reporting and local news coverage. I wish traditional media and new media could coexist side by side. We are in amazing times of change in the media landscape for sure. All the best to you and Daniel both from Bongo and I!

  2. Todd August 13, 2011 at 10:50 am #

    Copy editor chiming in…The deal was announced in December ’04 (I was off that night, but my cube was prominent in the picture the next day.)

    The day you reference was Jan. 3, 2005. Somewhat mercifully, I also was off that day–one that will live in infamy.

    Former H-S, yet still, copy editor :)

  3. Andrea Martin August 13, 2011 at 11:21 am #

    Ginny I about cried reading this. Well done.

  4. Andy Bechtel August 13, 2011 at 11:24 am #

    Thanks for this wonderful and sad post. Here’s a possible companion piece, told from the Raleigh point of view:

    http://editdesk.wordpress.com/2011/06/08/copy-desk-tribute/

    Is it really that long ago that the N&O and Herald-Sun were competitors? It feels that way.

  5. Ellen Lynch August 13, 2011 at 11:38 am #

    I never worked at the Herald-Sun, but I did worked at the N&O and Orlando Sentinel. It breaks my heart that so many of my former colleagues are losing their jobs. I feel for everyone at the Herald-Sun.

  6. Ginny Skalski August 13, 2011 at 11:41 am #

    Todd,
    As my former editor, you always helped me keep my facts straight. Thanks for correcting this dates. It’s funny the tricks time can play on your mind. I’ll fix the dates when I’m near the computer. I’m all thumbs on my iPhone!

    Andrea,
    I didn’t want to make you cry. But it’s true. I was so lonely when I moved to Durham and you guys were so sweet to bring me into your circle!

    Marshall,
    I love that we share this journalist bond. You’ve always been one of my biggest cheerleaders and I truly appreciate it!

    Andy,
    Time flies. And back then we definitely felt like we were competing with the N&O. We were scrappy, they were sophisticated. Lol!

  7. Tim Lavallee August 13, 2011 at 4:24 pm #

    Ginny,
    My old newsroom in Mass. has gone through similar purchases and rounds of layoffs. Most of my coworkers have moved on to non-journalism jobs. I consider them to be the best of the best, too.

    The fact is the boardrooms of the print media moved too slowly to capitalize on digital. Some newsrooms were still rolling galleys on hot wax in 2000! The dailies in our chain were using a text editor developed in 1978!

    In 2005, I was publishing a blog about driving in the Boston area that got more traffic than many of our news websites. It was pretty sad. But it made me realize something about the reading habits of the digital age. People didn’t want a paper filled with transcripts of local government meetings. The ones that got the most response were the ones about other people. When I tried to suggest some changes along these lines my EIC told me that was suicide. I must publish the bus routes! What paper of record wouldn’t publish bus routes?! That’s when I started looking to leave.

    The news business will go on, the “paper” will endure, and the mission shall never die! (with apologies to the late Sen. Kennedy.)

    Also pardon my rambling. My copy editor was laid off in 2002. He now works in a Barnes and Noble.

  8. John Martin August 13, 2011 at 5:08 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this Ginny. I didn’t know this history about you; I’ve just always known you as “a good writer.”

    What struck me the most about it was the incredible amount of change in just seven years.

  9. Duri Chitayat August 14, 2011 at 7:49 pm #

    Sad… Its a changing business. Lots more opinion. I think/read that it’s either lead to or resulted in the hyper-entertainment-ization of news (lot less straight journalism) and it’s had effects on our culture/society. Its not cool to be a undecided moderate but instead you have to take sides on an issue regardless of whether you have enough facts or not

  10. Diana August 15, 2011 at 2:12 pm #

    I just loved your last line to such a bittersweet story.
    I don’t think you needed a copy editor!
    Love Di ♥

  11. Amelie Klever September 11, 2011 at 3:54 pm #

    Hallo :-D

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