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Herald-Sun lays off newsroom staffers

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Newsroom staffers were laid off at The Herald-Sun Tuesday.

Management at the newspaper was not available to confirm the layoffs as of Thursday morning. Neither Editor Bob Ashley nor publisher Rick Bean returned calls seeking comment.

In a column published Wednesday (registration required), Ashley confirmed that the paper had "lost a few positions," including some in the newsroom, as part of an effort "to cut costs fairly sharply" in response to declining ad revenues.

"Such moves are always painful," Ashley wrote, "but we had to recognize the financial realities in front of us." He said "fewer than 10" jobs were cut company-wide.

Photographer Kevin Seifert was laid off, leaving only three staff photographers to shoot for both The Herald-Sun and its Orange County edition, The Chapel Hill Herald.

Database librarian Mary Clements and obituary clerk Amanda Jordan-Farmer were also let go, according to sources close to the paper.

Copy editor Joel Haswell, who has worked for The Herald-Sun for 40 years, was offered early retirement. For now, he remains employed at the paper. Another veteran copy editor, Carl Boswell, said he will retire as of Sept. 1 but would not comment or say whether management offered him a retirement package. Haswell was responsible for updating much of the newspaper's Web site. Sources say Keith Upchurch, also a longtime copy editor, was also offered early retirement.

Durham's hometown daily newspaper has suffered steep declines in staff and circulation ever since the Paducah, Ky.-based Paxton Media bought the newspaper in 2005 (see "Inside The Herald-Sun," Jan. 18, 2006). On the day Paxton took over, management shocked staff and the community at large by firing 80 of the paper's 350 employees, including many newsroom veterans.

The paper's circulation has declined by about 38 percent since the purchase and now stands at 32,845 daily and 32,711 on Sundays, according to Audit Bureau of Circulation reports from March of this year.

Tuesday's layoffs were not a great surprise, given the rash of newsroom firings in recent months, including at The Herald-Sun's competitor, the Raleigh News & Observer (see "The N&O cuts 70 jobs," June 18, 2008). Both papers have also seen mounting staff losses by attrition, as demoralized employees jump ship.

"Half the desks are empty now, and there are dead computers and phones all over the place," said one recently departed Herald-Sun staffer. "Every day there is like going to a funeral, and I just couldn't take it anymore."

In his column, Ashley wrote that the paper "took great care to preserve our ability to put reporters on the street to report and write local news." He said some staffers were "redeployed" to fill vacant reporting positions, "boosting us to our greatest reporting strength in many months."


Correction: (July 31, 2008): An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that copy editors Joel Haswell, Carl Boswell and Keith Upchurch were fired.

This story has been updated since it first appeared.

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