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.
Layoffs Were Once Unexpected
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
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.
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).