Veteran Employees Surprised By Rapid Firings When Paxton Buys Herald-Sun

Jan 5, 2005

When the sale of the 50,000 circulation Herald-Sun in Durham, NC, went through on Monday morning and the new owners, the Paxton Media Group LLC of Paduch, KY, took over as the deal closed, the newspaper’s four top managers were fired within minutes and escorted from the building without their belongings.

Then later Monday the new owners started firing employees, up to 25% of the newspaper’s more than 350 workers, including NPPA life member Harold Moore, 70, the Herald-Sun’s director of photography and an employee of the Herald-Sun for more than 50 years.

Less than 30 minutes after the sale closed, the surprised president and publisher, David Hughey, vice president and treasurer James Alexander, vice president of sales and marketing Toby Barfield, and executive editor and vice president William Hawkins were fired and then escorted from the building.

As the day progressed many more shocked employees were given word of their own firing and then taken out of the building. They were not allowed to clean out their desks or pack personal property or say goodbye to coworkers, according to multiple news reports. A story by Julia Lewis on WRAL-TV in Durham quoted one of the fired senior executives, Toby Barfield, who said, "They said you can’t touch the computer, you can’t touch the phone, you have to leave right now. We had no idea that 30 minutes after the sale our heads would start rolling."

After the executives were axed, then as many as 80 other selected employees found out that they were fired as well. Moore, a veteran of five decades at the Herald-Sun who joined NPPA in February 1956, was quoted Tuesday in Raleigh's News & Observer as saying, "I was planning to retire before long anyway, but I would have like to have left with some dignity." The News & Observer story also said that Monday evening several employees were huddled together in the parking lot, some crying.

The Herald-Sun has been owned for 115 years by the family of E.T. Rollins Jr. of Durham. It was one of the last independently owned newspapers in North Carolina. Rumors surfaced around Thanksgiving that the newspaper might be for sale. On December 3rd the sale to Paxton was announced to employees who were called to a gathering in the newsroom. And then this week, just one month after the newsroom announcement and on the morning the deal closed, senior managers and employees were fired as ownership changed hands. The sale price was not disclosed.

Paxton Media Group LLC is a privately held company that owns 28 daily newspapers, weekly publications, and a television station. TheHerald-Sun is its 29th daily newspaper and it takes its place as the largest property in the Paxton stable of daily newspapers. David Paxton is the company’s president and chief executive officer. Paxton Media also owns North Carolina newspapers in Forest City, Henderson, High Point, Lenoir, Monroe, and Sanford.

Paxton has a history of firing top managers and employees when they purchase newspapers. When they purchased the High Point Enterprisein High Point, NC, in 2004 they fired the managing editor, the general manager, and 20 employees.

Tuesday in the Herald-Sun’s own story about Paxton’s purchase of the newspaper, Paxton representatives called the firings "layoffs" and said they were part of a "sweeping corporate restructuring that included a new publisher and a new top editor." The story called the firings "job eliminations." The newsroom previously employed 87 people, the story said, adding that 17 of the newsroom positions have now been cut by the restructuring.

Three top editors from a Paxton newspaper in Kentucky have been appointed to run the Herald-Sun. Robert Childress is the newspaper's new publisher and Bob Ashley was named the newspaper’s new editor. Childress was publisher of the Paxton’s Owensboro, KY, Messenger-Inquirer and Ashley was the Messenger-Inquirer’s editor. Also coming along with them from Owensboro is Elaine Morgan, who will replace theHerald-Sun’s advertising director.