Saturday, January 08, 2005

The Herald-Sun, former community newspaper

Let's start with a quote from my editor, Neil Offen:
"You are always, of course, free to post for yourself, in your name, on any subject of interest."

I sure hope that's true. I've tossed and turned over whether or not to remain quiet about the Herald-Sun's new management. I've decided that if I don't have the anatomy to say what I think on my own blog, then I'm wasting the time of anyone reading my column in the Chapel Hill Herald. Further, if Paxton fires me for what I say here, it says more about them than it does me.

As I've been reading lately about the thermonuclear cleaning of the Pickett Road barn, I am embarrassed for the Herald-Sun newspaper and its new management. What a colossal misjudgment. It's not just bad form but indeed, bad business judgment to so publicly treat so many people so badly. It's no worse to treat a 50-year employee badly than it is one who's there a short time, yet it seems so much more egregious -- so completely ungrateful. I think of the number of weekends, holidays, snowstorms and various other things in 50 years' time and imagine what someone working for a newspaper that long has to give up to do what Bill Hawkins used to describe as "the work of the Lord." That's how he saw the newspaper business. At least, that's what he said.

It's stunning to see that people who are clever enough to have enough money to buy something so valuable can then piss on their own shoes and nearly overnight, measurably reduce the value of their new purchase. Arrogance, thy name is Paxton.

On the up side, however, it is reassuring to see so many people expressing their disgust with this new regime's unprofessional treatment of the staff dismissed nearly a week ago. My feeling is that the Durham and Orange county communities are yearning for a way to make the point to Paxton that it has behaved abominably and should be foreced to apologize, yet they they don't want to kill the Herald-Sun completely. Even the N&O will tell you, the competition is good for the market and good for readers.

Still, for those who would like to smack Paxton where they live, I offer this modest proposal:
Don't cancel your subscription ... that will only threaten more jobs at a needed community newspaper. Instead, take your January 16th (Sunday) edition (the one with all that expensive advertising in it) and bring it back to the Herald-Sun's main office on Sunday afternoon. Throw it in their driveway (2828 Pickett Road, Durham), still wrapped in plastic -- unopened, unread. You can put a little love note in there if you want. This will tell the Herald-Sun management that their advertisers were ripped off for whatever they paid for that day's ads. There's money involved there, so Paxton should actually care about it.

I'm going to venture a guess that other local media will be monitoring that parking lot during that period, so be sure you've combed your hair and look sharp. You could end up on somebody's front page. And no worries about missing the content of the paper. Just come home and read it online -- just this once.

Of course, Paxton should care about the fact that with this horrifying treatment of the staff, they have rendered their moral authority and voice in the community's opinion leadership decidedly un-trustworthy and completely non-essential.

Next Sunday is the day before we observe Martin Luther King, Jr's birthday. It's an appropriate opportunity to conduct a little protest and mini-boycott if you will, for the benefit of preserving civility and fairness within the walls a major employer in the City of Durham.

And we'll just see if the Herald-Sun really thinks it's just fine for me to express my opinion freely.


Ruby said...

Right on, Jean!

Too bad I gave up my subscription in disgust many years ago, else I would join you. Maybe I could print out their web site (how I read it every day) on Sunday and add that to the pile...

Anonymous said...

C'mon, it's only business.

Paxton owns the place, you don't, the readers don't, the employees don't. If they want to review, revamp and replace everything, it's their newspaper and they earned that right.

Is it a good business decision? You and I will never know. Would I have done it differently? probably. But I didn't accumulate enough cash or credit to spend millions and millions to buy a business, so I don't get to make that decision.

But I'm predicting that their driveway will be relatively empty Sunday morning.

And, by the way, if I was running things? you would be gone. Mr. Offen made mistake to enable you to undercut the decisions of the owners.

Jean Bolduc said...

Mr. Offen did no such "enabling." He merely reinforced my right to free speech.

Obviously, the newspaper's ownership can do as they wish regarding running the shop. I never suggested otherwise. I merely observe that there are ways of doing things and Paxton's way of executing these changes was unnecessarily heavy handed and cruel. When they are asked about it, the slam the door with "no comment." They shouldn't be surprised , then, when any employer they cover does the same thing in future.

They, like you, seem to feel that by being faceless and nameless, they can excuse their callousness. "Corporate has made these decisions" they told staffers.

I just think that if you can afford to pay $125 million for a paper that's worth half that, you could probably have spent a couple of bucks on a class on how to behave decently when you're terminating long-term staffers.

DukeEgr93 said...

I'm not sure just throwing the paper in their face would work... From the actions these people have taken, it is clear that the only message they choose to understand is the one their bank communicates to them monthly. Beyond that, it is clear that I am not going to be getting the *quality* of information I did before. Not to mention exactly 0 homegrown artistic political commentaries.

I am very much inspired by your choice to voice your opinions. Clearly, you are a Journalist with a capaital J - most excellent.

Anonymous said...

I just think that if you can afford to pay $125 million for a paper that's worth half that,"

It's worth what you can get. Have you checked eBay lately to see what people are paying for half eaten toasted cheese sandwiches?

" you could probably have spent a couple of bucks on a class on how to behave decently when you're terminating long-term staffers."

Agreed. The way this was handled was stupid and callous in my opinion.

I still wouldn't allow you to have any connection with the newspaper.

Anonymous said...

How many newspapers were in the Herald's driveway this a.m.?

Jean Bolduc said...

And so it goes.

Lex said...

Late to the party, but with some newspaper-industry experience ...

Up to 80% of the market value of a newspaper is an intangible called "good will" -- the habit the community has of getting its news and information (including ads) from a paper and of buying its advertising there. Any new owner who walks in and whacks all the highest-paid people without taking the time to ascertain who adds the most value relative to salary is simply a poor business operator. Of course, anyone who paid $125M for a paper the size of the Herald-Sun clearly knows nothing about business to begin with.