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Dallas Times Herald to Cease Publication Today : Newspapers: Most of its assets will be sold to the parent of its longtime arch-rival, the Dallas Morning News, for $55 million.

December 09, 1991|STUART SILVERSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Dallas Times Herald, which was engaged in one of the newspaper industry's most spirited competitive battles in the late 1970s and 1980s, conceded its final defeat Sunday and announced that it will cease publication today.

The 112-year-old daily, a winner of three Pulitzer Prizes, agreed to sell most of its assets to the parent of its longtime arch-rival, the Dallas Morning News, for $55 million.

For the Times Herald, the shutdown marks the end of a downward spiral that began in the early 1980s when the Morning News began building a big lead in circulation and in advertising revenue. The Times Herald was also battered by the Texas oil bust of the middle and late 1980s and, more recently, by a national economic downturn that has hit the newspaper industry hard.

The Times Herald now joins a growing list of No. 2 newspapers in major metropolitan areas that have failed over the last decade, including such dailies as the Los Angeles Herald Examiner.

Employees were struck by the suddenness of the newspaper's plans to shut down, but their surprise was tempered by several years of rumors that the newspaper was on the verge of failing.

"Being No. 2 in a two-newspaper town and knowing that the finances were always questionable . . . everyone knew what our situation was," said Victor Galvan, a Times Herald assistant city editor.

"Right now people are laughing, people are hugging and cleaning out their desks. There's a full myriad of emotions. I myself am in shock. . . . But, right now, I'm just concerned about putting tomorrow's (Monday's) paper out."

Sunday's announcement ends four months of secret talks between Times Herald Printing Co., publisher of the Times Herald, and A. H. Belo Corp., the Dallas-based media company that owns the Morning News.

The deal, which already has been approved by the U.S. Justice Department, is scheduled to close today. It follows months of unsuccessful efforts by the Times Herald to find a buyer that would keep the newspaper in business.

Roy E. Bode, editor of the Times Herald, said he believes that the newspaper was marginally profitable this year but that the company determined that its weakening financial position was irreversible. By shutting down now, he said, the Times Herald will be able to pay off all of its creditors in full and will provide a minimum of two months' severance pay to about 900 full-time employees.

In the newspaper industry, the two Dallas papers have been much admired over the past decade for their editorial quality and competitive edge.

The Times Herald "had a lot of verve and guts," said Shelby Coffey III, who was editor of the Times Herald in 1986 and who now is editor and executive vice president of the Los Angeles Times. Coffey credited the Times Herald with strong investigative reporting, particularly in its coverage of politics and sports.

"Dallas readers will be the less for not having a second voice," Coffey said. "It was often a strong, independent editorial voice."

The Times Mirror Co., owner of the Los Angeles Times, bought the Times Herald in 1969. In 10 years, a revitalized Times Herald drew close to overtaking the Morning News in daily circulation and briefly surpassed its rival in Sunday circulation.

An awakened Morning News struck back hard, however. Its vastly improved news coverage brought the newspaper three Pulitzers of its own and also helped give it a two-to-one advantage in readership. According to an industry audit, for the six months ended Sept. 30, 1991, the Morning News' daily circulation was 406,768 to the Times Herald's 200,730.

After the Texas economy was stung by the sharp decline in oil prices in the 1980s, the Times Herald changed hands twice. Times Mirror sold the paper for $110 million in 1986 to a company headed by publisher William Dean Singleton.

Two years later, the deep-in-debt Singleton concern sold the newspaper to a firm headed by John Buzzetta, a longtime associate of Singleton's.

Various cost-cutting efforts by both Singleton and Buzzetta failed to turn around the Times Herald.

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