McClatchy buying Durham Herald-Sun newspaper in North Carolina

The Herald-Sun newspaper building in Durham can be seen in this 2002 file photo.
The Herald-Sun newspaper building in Durham can be seen in this 2002 file photo. JOHN ROTTET

McClatchy said Wednesday it has added The Herald-Sun of Durham, North Carolina to its stable of newspapers and media holdings.

McClatchy is taking over The Herald Sun and related digital assets from Kentucky-based Paxton Media Group, which acquired Durham paper in 2004 and subsequently was hit with economic challenges roiling the newspaper industry. McClatchy’s acquisition cost and other terms were not disclosed.

McClatchy’s acquisition bring the California media chain’s total to 30 newspapers in 14 states, including seven in the Carolinas. McClatchy owns The News & Observer in Raleigh.

The Herald-Sun’s operations will be overseen by Sara Glines, president and publisher of The News & Observer. The N&O has never been satisfied with its lack of penetration in Durham, only a half-hour from the state capital. The Raleigh paper now gains a foothold in nearby Durham with the planned sharing of news stories and back-office resources as part of the McClatchy chain.

“We see it as a really great opportunity because it’s in Durham where we’d love to have a larger presence,” Glines said. “The Herald-Sun has long roots in this community.”

When Paxton acquired The Herald-Sun in 2004, McClatchy also put in a bid for the paper, but did not prevail. This time, the deal came together in a matter of weeks, Glines said. Like the newspaper industry in general, The Herald-Sun has lost subscribers and advertising and is down to about 35 employees, compared to about 320 for the N&O.

Glines said the Durham paper is profitable but the operating details under McClatchy ownership remain to be worked out. However, she said the paper will remain in its current building near Northgate Mall, and said layoffs are not planned, as The Herald-Sun’s back-office functions are handled off-site by Paxton. The Herald-Sun is currently printed by Paxton’s facilities in High Point and will be shifted to McClatchy’s printing presses in Garner in the next 90 days.

Lew Myers, interim CEO of Downtown Durham Inc., an economic development group, suggested the McClatchy acquition may potentially save the struggling local paper.

“With the acquisition by McClatchy it insures there will be a local paper focused on Durham,” Myers said. “I would hope McClatchy invests serious resources.”

Myers said The Herald-Sun has become “very, very thin,” sometimes just 8 pages, but still publishes a print edition seven days a week. He said it is frustrating that The Herald-Sun’s paywall does not allow any complimentary free articles, creating a dearth of local news. He hopes to see greater online access when The Herald-Sun’s policies are aligned with McClatchy’s.

Larry Grimes, a media analyst with Grimes & Co. in Maryland, said he McClatchy’s move was unexpected.

“Strategically it fits perfectly,” Grimes said. “It allows them to expand geographically and maybe fill in something in-between.”

Grimes expects the N&O and The Herald-Sun to coordinate group advertising deals and share news articles, creating “a nice advertising cluster.”

The Herald-Sun traces its origin to the Durham Daily Sun, which published its first edition in 1889.

Sacramento, Calif.-based McClatchy owns seven papers in the Carolinas, including The Charlotte Observer and The State in South Carolina. In all, the chain operates in 14 states and also runs a Washington, DC bureau. Its holdings include The Miami Herald, The Kansas City Star, The Sacramento Bee and The Idaho Statesman.