Herald-Sun’s 125-year history celebrated at library

Feb. 17, 2014 @ 12:47 AM

The Durham County Library celebrated the 125th anniversary of The Herald-Sun on Sunday afternoon with a discussion between Durham City Councilman Steve Schewel and The Herald-Sun editor Bob Ashley. Schewel is the founder and former publisher of the Independent Weekly newspaper.
The Durham Sun was founded in 1889 during a decade full of new newspaper ventures including the Tobacco Plant, Recorder, Daily Dispatch, Daily Reporter, Methodist Advance and Durham Workman, among others, Schewel quoted from Durham’s history book written by Jean Bradley Anderson, “Durham County.” Schewel described the Durham of that time, when local businessman Julian S. Carr donated a racetrack and land that is now Duke University’s East Campus for then-Trinity College’s move to Durham.
The Sun was founded in 1889 because of a fight over railroad tracks, specifically those leading to the plant of Washington Duke. Carr’s plant had railroad tracks leading to it, but not Duke’s. Duke convinced a staff member of the Recorder to leave that newspaper to found the Sun. Employees laid the tracks themselves, were arrested, tracks torn up and laid again.
“It’s worth noting that in 1910, Julian Carr bought the Sun,” Ashley said.
Of the newspapers founded between 1880 and 1890, only one survived by 1924, Ashley noted, and that was the Sun.
Schewel said that with the Independent, they never had to worry about covering the area broadly, but could pick and choose. He asked Ashley if The Herald-Sun is still a newspaper of record or if it has a different role now.
Ashley said when the Sun was founded in 1889, it had just four pages, and Durham was smaller then. It also included flowery coverage of funerals, he said. In a community of this size today, he didn’t think any paper could be a paper of record, but it does record major events. Ashley said in the years ahead, there will be more options with online news rather than being limited by print space.
Schewel asked Ashley what has changed over the years in newspaper journalism. Ashley pointed out that television was predicted as the demise of radio, which didn’t happen, though television evening news did spell the end of afternoon newspapers.
The Morning Herald was founded in 1894 and bought in 1896 by Edward T. Rollins, who later bought The Durham Sun in 1929 with cash. They merged into The Herald-Sun in 1991, and the Rollins family continued ownership until it sold the paper to Paxton Media Group in 2005.
Newspapers of the era of being family owned “used to be the fiefdoms of their owner,” Ashley said, with Daniels in Raleigh and Rollins in Durham. “Now newspapers are essentially corporate entities,” he said. Ashley has worked for both, getting his start at The Raleigh Times and moving on to the Charlotte Observer. He worked for a PMG newspaper in Kentucky before coming to The Herald-Sun, and said the company leaves local coverage decisions and editorial decisions to be made locally.
Schewel mentioned white Southern newspapers coverage of race in the early 20th century, and said that The Herald-Sun didn’t have the virulence of the News & Observer but basically called for disenfranchisement of African-Americans.
Ashley said it was not a proud moment for newspapers in the Southeast and The Herald-Sun was also a paper of its times.
Schewel also asked about the political leanings of the editorial page, and said it he thought the paper was quite conservative until Ashley’s arrival. Ashley said there was no editorial plan, he just ran the editorial page as he had at his last newspaper.
Schewel and Ashley talked some about the future of print vs. digital. Ashley said that the question remains whether to direct resources to those who pay for the newspaper but are leaving, or toward where everyone is going, but don’t pay.
Ashley said that this past year the Duke University newspaper, The Chronicle, dropped its Friday print edition, reducing its five-day print schedule from when Ashley, as editor and a student there in the late 1960s, instated the five-day schedule. He said the newspaper business was fascinating when he entered it, and still thinks it is today.
Schewel said that Durham is lucky to be a two-newspaper town, and said he subscribes to The Herald-Sun and the News & Observer and reads both daily.
There is currently a display about The Herald-Sun at the Durham County Library downtown, and an exhibit about the newspaper opens Tuesday at the Museum of Durham History Hub.