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N&O to sell Chapel Hill office

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The Chapel Hill building that now houses the Durham and Orange county bureaus of The News & Observer is for sale.

"I think if we got the right price, we'd be interested in talking with somebody," John Drescher, The N&O's executive editor, said in an interview.

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McClatchy, the Sacramento-based newspaper company that owns The N&O, owns the building at 505 W. Franklin St. County records list its value at more than $2 million.

Money is tight for McClatchy these days: The company instituted a wage freeze earlier this month, as its ad revenues and stock price continue to drop. Evidently, that prime piece of Franklin Street real estate is too valuable an asset not to consider selling.

Ten staffers at The N&O's Durham bureau moved their offices to Chapel Hill after the company decided not to renew its lease at Peabody Place near downtown. In an Aug. 16 column, Durham News editor Rob Waters announced the shuttering.

"I won't try to put lipstick and a lace bonnet on this pig," Waters wrote. "It's going to be harder to cover Durham from a Chapel Hill base. But a dollar we save in rent is a dollar we don't have to cut elsewhere. If moving preserves a reporting or photo job, it's a good tradeoff."

The joint newsroom in Chapel Hill is now home to fewer than 20 staffers, Drescher said. That number could get even smaller if layoffs continue.

Drescher said if the building were sold, the company would lease another space between Durham and Chapel Hill; it would not go without a physical presence in the western Triangle, he said.

"I don't see any scenario under which we would leave Durham or Chapel Hill. What we do in Chapel Hill and Durham is important to us. The Chapel Hill News and The Durham News are important to us. I see them being around for a long time."

"I think that's important," said Chapel Hill Mayor Kevin Foy. "I think we've been very fortunate in Chapel Hill to have The Chapel Hill News, The News & Observer, The Chapel Hill Herald, and The Daily Tar Heel, all of which are newspapers that take an interest in what's going on in this local community." Because of changes in the newspaper industry and a move toward digital distribution, he said, "I expect we are going to see more changes. Whether that's going to be good for the community or not remains to be seen."

Durham Mayor Bill Bell was unavailable for comment.

Readers in Durham and Orange counties have undoubtedly noticed less local news in the paper following the discontinuation of a special zoned edition for readers on this side of Wake County.

Meanwhile, The N&O has launched a new community edition, The Midtown Raleigh News, aimed at readers inside and just north of the beltway, as well as a print publication called Skirt! that is being distributed Trianglewide.

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