The Los Angeles Herald Examiner, strapped with declining circulation and shrinking revenues, announced Wednesday that it will cease publication as of today, closing out a 118-year history that provided Los Angeles with some of its richest journalistic lore.
Robert J. Danzig, Hearst vice president and general manager of the company’s newspapers, stood on a desk Wednesday in the Herald’s newsroom and broke the news in a brief statement to the assembled staff.
“It is with great regret that we have made this decision,” Danzig said. “It has been a losing business but a winning newspaper.”
He said afterward that the decision to close the paper had been made at noon. It came after a much-publicized yearlong search for a buyer by the New York-based Hearst Corp. The Herald was expected to lose $18.7 million this year, but is now losing as much as $2 million a month, according to sources familiar with the paper’s books.
The Herald’s circulation as of Sept. 30 was 232,437, down from 721,026 after the merger of the morning Examiner and the afternoon Herald-Express created the Herald Examiner in 1962.
The closing leaves Los Angeles only one downtown-based general interest daily newspaper.
Los Angeles Times executives said they might pick up at most 50,000 Herald readers, and other local papers stand to gain some circulation. Nearly 90,000 of the Herald’s readers already buy another newspaper.
Staff members were stunned by Danzig’s announcement, even though for months many of them, alert to the dire possibilities, had been searching for work elsewhere. Many cried and embraced. Others simply walked around talking to each other, trying to take in the enormity of what they had just heard.
Their reaction spoke to the esprit de corps that permeated the news staff in the end.
“Obviously, everybody saw it coming,” said Herald Deputy City Editor Lennie LaGuire. “Most of us had come to terms with the fact that it was going to close sometime soon. But I was kind of hoping it would last past the first of the year, that we could keep going with some of the stories we were working on.”
She added, tearfully: “I just can’t believe it feels like this, to close like an insurance office. It really feels like a death in the family.”
“It’s like everybody got punched in the stomach,” said reporter Ellis Conklin. “Everybody’s having a hard time breathing.”
Reporter Alina Tugend was intently taking notes during a speech by former President Jimmy Carter at the Biltmore when a consultant coordinating public relations for the event pulled her aside. He had to tell her the Herald’s plug had been pulled.
“Alina just said, ‘OK, thanks,’ and left abruptly, very upset,” said the consultant, David H. Novak.
About 2 p.m., an hour after the announcement, an assistant sports editor telephoned hockey writer Rick Sadowski at a hotel in Boston, where he was on assignment to cover a game between the Los Angeles Kings and the Boston Bruins.
Sadowski, a 10-year Herald veteran, had planned to fly to Hartford on Saturday and Buffalo on Sunday with the Kings. “But I just called the airport and made arrangements to come home,” he said. “There’s no reason to cover those games now.”
Like many employees, Sadowski worried about the financial fallout.
“We just bought a house in September,” he said.
Many Herald employees had clung to the belief that a financial angel would come to the rescue. Tycoons like Marvin Davis, Kirk Kerkorian and Malcolm Forbes were rumored as possible buyers--"everybody but Donald Trump,” one advertising man said. Others speculated that Japanese investors would take over.
‘We Did Our Job’
Jeryl Parade, an assistant manager in classified advertising, was one of several Herald workers upset with Hearst corporate management. Market studies, Parade said, showed that the Herald provided a special advertising niche, especially in automotive and job recruitment ads. “Tomorrow we’ll have our Auto ’90 Preview--our biggest preview of cars ever. And our classifieds have grown,” Parade said. “We did our job here.”
As required by a new federal law governing plant shutdowns, employees will be paid and will receive benefits for the next 60 days. An outplacement agency has been retained to help employees find new jobs.
The paper is the descendant of Hearst’s Examiner, founded 86 years ago, the morning Herald, started 112 years ago, and the Los Angeles Express, which began publishing 118 years ago.
In its heyday, the Examiner scored scoops on everything from the “Black Dahlia” murder case to the explosion of the first H-bomb. The afternoon Herald Express under Hearst was the largest afternoon paper west of Chicago. The Herald Express also had the first woman city editor in Agness (Aggie) Underwood in 1937.
Herbert H. Krauch started at the Herald as an office boy in 1912. The first week he was there, City Editor Jack Campbell got into an argument over a story with reporter Peter Dunn.
“Jack Campbell floored Peter Dunn with one punch,” Krauch, now 93, recalled Wednesday.
Krauch had been studying civil engineering, but “after I saw the fistfight, I thought newspaper work was so exciting, I decided to become a newspaper man.”
He rose through the ranks, serving as editor of the paper from 1952 to 1962. He was in charge of combining the Herald-Express and the Examiner.
“I had to let go about 265 editorial people from the Examiner, a lot of them friends of mine,” he said.
At the same time, he noticed a big safe in the Examiner office. He asked what was in it and was told, “Nothing now, but we used to keep $25,000 in the safe, because Mr. Hearst would call at 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning asking for 100 or 200 bucks.”
Expressions of regret about the closing came from politicians and community leaders, and they shared a common theme: Any reduction in newspaper competition is a loss for readers.
“Los Angeles will be poorer for it,” said City Council President John Ferraro. “The Herald Examiner has been a strong voice in our city and its reporting of events will certainly be missed.”
“It’s one more blow against freedom of the press,” said County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn. “We need as many newspapers as possible to tell the public about government at the local level.”
“The closing of the Herald Examiner limits the choices for Los Angeles readers,” said Mayor Tom Bradley in a statement issued by his press secretary.
Referring to The Times and the San Fernando Valley-based Daily News, he added, “I sincerely hope the two remaining daily newspapers focus attention on covering the entire city, bringing attention to unheard stories that impact many of the 3.4 million people who make the City of Los Angeles home.”
“I think the Herald did a better job in dealing with local issues and minority communities,” said Linda Wong, executive director of California Tomorrow, an immigrants’ advocacy group.
The Herald has received acclaim in the past year for its investigations into the Bradley Administration.
“Anyone who works in a competitive city knows that competition keeps staff on their toes and much more concerned (about) missing stories,” said Ben H. Bagdikian, a professor at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. “Competition . . . has always meant an improvement in the quality of reporting.”
Times Publisher David Laventhol stated: “The absence of the Herald is going to place an even greater responsibility on The Times to be fair, accurate and complete in its reporting and to provide a forum for multiple voices on important issues.”
Added Times Editor Shelby Coffey III: “It’s a sad day for journalism and a sad day for Southern California. The Herald Examiner has been a lively competitor and it will be a melancholy absence.”
The Times is considering picking up some of the Herald’s syndicated features and is reviewing applications from many Herald employees. The Times also will acquire more than 10,000 of the Herald’s newspaper stands and racks, and its subscription list.
Among prospective buyers who looked at the paper, it was learned, were the Toronto Sun Publishing Co. of Canada, movie and oil tycoon Marvin Davis, British tabloid publisher Robert Maxwell, and a group that included City News Service owner Tom Quinn.
Changes in 1962
In the end, Hearst was not demanding a heavy price, only someone with the money and commitment to make a serious attempt at turning the publication around.
The paper’s problems dated to 1962, when Hearst chose to concentrate on afternoon circulation, merging the morning Examiner with the less successful Herald-Express. The announcement closely followed the closure by Times Mirror Co. of its afternoon paper, The Mirror.
That left The Times with no morning competition, and the Herald was forced to pursue a blue-collar audience that tended to go to work and return home earlier in the day.
Advertisers followed the money. By 1967, The Times enjoyed a 2-1 advantage in advertising, despite only a 120,000 lead in circulation. The Herald’s readership started to fall.
That year the American Newspaper Guild struck the Herald over wages and was eventually joined by 11 other unions. By the time the strike ended 10 years later, the Herald’s circulation was just 330,000.
Since then, Hearst has thrashed around for a comeback strategy, trying to position the paper for more sophisticated readers, pondering a conversion to a tabloid. It also converted back to a morning publication.
As circulation declined, rumors of the paper’s demise or sale swirled around the city from time to time. But the Herald was a powerful symbol to the Hearst family, which is still active in the company. The building at 11th and Broadway, with its hand-painted tiled entrance floor and gold and black onyx lobby, once included press lord William Randolph Hearst’s private apartment.
Brokers for Grubb & Ellis Commercial Real Estate Services said chances are good that the ornate Herald building will be sold to someone who will keep the existing structure. “A major printer could use that, maybe a group that prints law books,” said broker Ray Lepone.
Times staff writers Darrell Dawsey, Maura Dolan, Scott Harris, Shawn Hubler, John Kendall, Jesus Sanchez and Hector Tobar contributed to this story.
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