"It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is."
When it came to word mincing, Clinton might as well have been called the Coleslaw President. But his notorious ism came to mind for some local folks last week when the paper-formerly-known-as-the-Huntersville-Herald proclaimed it was launching a long celebration of its 10th anniversary.
Is the milestone worthy of celebration?
It depends on what the meaning of Herald is, one might say.
That's because the paper, on its third owner and without any employees who have been on staff for the full 10 years, little resembles the folksy, often irreverent and unapologetically hometown paper founded in 2002 by longtime newspaperman Tucker Mitchell. It's kind of like, as one local media observer noted last week, the husband who celebrates being married for 10 years — but to three different wives.
Mitchell sold what became known simply as The Herald — dropping the Huntersville-centric moniker when the paper ventured into Cornelius a couple of years after it began — and the Mountain Island Monitor, in 2008 to Carolina Weekly Newspapers, a Charlotte-based collection of newspapers that shared much of their content and advertising. In a move worthy of a toast with glasses of New Coke, Carolina Weekly's chief executive, Alain Lillie, in 2008 turned his acquisition into a clone of his other products, even changing The Herald's name to the Lake Norman Weekly.
Mitchell, who had agreed to stay on with the paper in an editorial role (and who drank his share of "real" Coke), recoiled at the changes, and a parting of ways occurred within weeks. A wave of defections followed.
"The truth is, the current iteration of what started as the Huntersville Herald bares little resemblance to the paper I helped Tucker start," says Andrew Warfield, the Huntersville Herald's first editor and now editor of the Lake Norman Citizen. "After it was acquired in 2008, (Lillie) was set on incorporating (the former Herald) into his model of a single, countywide newspaper with a few local stories sprinkled in, and giving the various papers geographic-specific names."
Warfield and several other holdovers from Mitchell's paper felt like they'd gone to bed in north Mecklenburg and woke up in North Korea.
"I took a lot of heat from readers because the paper was changing into something they didn't like," Warfield recalls. "And, because the editorial staff was cut in half, there was little I could do about it."
Warfield would leave what, in its fourth name change, had become the Herald Weekly, in 2009 and help start the Lake Norman Citizen.
'Citizen' is as 'Herald' was?
Craig Moon, former publisher of USA Today, became the third owner of the Herald Weekly when he bought it (and two other papers) from Carolina Weekly Newspapers in the last week of 2011.
Being two owners removed from the founder in less than a decade certainly didn't stop the Herald Weekly's publisher, Phyllis Rozzelle, from invoking Mitchell's legacy last week.
"Although our location and our management may have changed during these (10) years," Rozzelle wrote in a bylined piece, "many of the staff who worked for and were mentored by Tucker are proud to still be part of the paper."
What Rozzelle didn't say is of exactly which paper those Mitchell proteges are now a part.
Perhaps it all depends on what the meaning of the word "paper" is.
Seven members of the Lake Norman Citizen's current staff worked for Mitchell at the The Herald, more than the number of Mitchell-era holdovers on the Herald Weekly staff.
No editors or writers who worked for Mitchell remain on staff at the Herald Weekly, while three members of the five-person Citizen editorial staff worked for Mitchell at The Herald (and a fourth worked for Mitchell during his days as editor of The Leader newspaper in Charlotte).
Which isn't to say harkening back nostalgically to days gone by is a bad marketing ploy (remember all that venture capital flying around for startups during the golden old What "Is" Is era?)
"It's a solid brand and I don't blame them for trying to capitalize on the name or on the history of the paper," Warfield says of the Herald Weekly's new(er) owner. "But in reality, all of the people who created that history and made the brand great have been long gone from there, and many of them now make up almost the entire staff of the Lake Norman Citizen."
For his part, Mitchell, now regional editor for Media General and based in Florence, S.C., told the Citizen he'd rather not comment on days gone by at that whatever-they're-calling-his-former-paper these days.
But, then again, at least he did respond to the Citizen.
In an e-mail to the Citizen, Mitchell writes that Herald Weekly publisher Rozzelle "called twice and I didn't call back, which may offer some insights into how I feel about it."
It ... is.