After 70 Years In One Family, The Randolph Herald Changes Hands

Jun 11, 2015

The weekly newspaper the The Herald of Randolph has a new publisher; only its fifth in the paper’s 140-year history. Despite the change, the paper will continue to be locally owned.

The Herald occupies a flat-roofed wood frame building just off Randolph’s Main Street. At first glance, it may appear not much has changed since it moved into the building more than a century ago.

Audio from this story will be posted at approximately 11 a.m. on Friday, June 12.

There’s the creaky worn wood flooring, the assortment of roll top desks and not a few years of accumulated clutter. But there are no green eyeshades or clacking typewriters, and there’s no smell of ink or darkroom chemicals.

Like all newspapers, the Herald has changed with the times. Unlike many, it has done so without downsizing. Perhaps all the dire news about the newspaper business has led readers to appreciate the Herald even more.

“I’ve gotten more expressions of delight and support in the last couple of years than I ever have,” says the paper’s outgoing publisher, M. Dickey Drysdale.

Drysdale has owned the Herald since the early 1970s, when he took over from his father.

Like all newspapers, the Herald has changed with the times. Unlike many, it has done so without downsizing.

After 70 years in the same family, Drysdale told his readers this week that the paper is being sold. The new owner, 32-year-old Tim Calabro, started taking photos for the Herald when he was a South Royalton high school student.

Over the years, he completed his college education and continued to work at the Herald, taking on more responsibility.

“I got into this really [through] photography, and the photography showed me I was really interested in community newspapers,” says Calabro.

Under Drysdale the Herald’s readership has grown from 4,000 to a peak of more than 6,000. 

He says there's been a decline in recent years, but display ad revenue remains strong.

The Herald has embraced many aspects of modern newspaper technology but the office is full of reminders of its history: creaky worn wood flooring, the assortment of roll top desks and not a few years of accumulated clutter
Credit Steve Zind / VPR

The mix of state and local news in the paper has changed over the years, but the emphasis  remains on stories from the 16 towns it serves. Local correspondents still report weekly on who visited whom and what their neighbors are up to. 

And Drysdale has always found a place for the proverbial "fire department rescues kitty from tree" story.   

“That’s been the staple of a good weekly newspaper forever. It means something to people. The firemen took a little risk, it’s somebody’s kitty. When we get a call on anything like that, we get right on it,” he says.

The Herald is part of the fabric connecting the small rural communities it serves and people instinctively call in when something happens. Information from readers was critical in the paper’s award-winning coverage of communities hard hit by Tropical Storm Irene.

"I hope that people will still have an appetite for the news of the towns that surround them and finding out what their neighbors are up to. I’m really hopeful that the Herald will still have purpose then.” - Tim Calabro, Herald photographer and new owner

As a reporter and editorial writer, Drysdale has occasionally found the paper at the center of local controversies.

He recalls how the Herald’s coverage derailed a developer’s plan to create a lake by damming a nearby river and building waterfront chalets. 

Drysdale says there were opportunities to sell the Herald to owners of larger papers, including the Valley News in Lebanon, New Hampshire, whose coverage area overlaps with the Herald’s.

“When the opportunity came to sell within the staff and to sell locally and keep it as sort of this old-fashioned gig of some guy running a newspaper, we went right after that,” he says.

The majority of Herald readers subscribe to the print version of the paper and while it has a website, under Drysdale it hasn’t completely embraced social media. The Herald has a Facebook page, but not a Twitter account.

"I've gotten more expressions of delight and support in the last couple of years than I ever have," says outgoing publisher M. Dickey Drysdale of the paper's stalwart community support. Drysdale will continue to write for the paper.
Credit Steve Zind / VPR

Calabro says initially readers may notice a few design changes as he takes charge. He knows that as the world changes, the paper will too, although not too much, he hopes.

“I would be lying if I said I knew what those changes were right now,” Calabro says. "Hopefully we figure that out as we go along. I hope that people will still have an appetite for the news of the towns that surround them and finding out what their neighbors are up to. I’m really hopeful that the Herald will still have purpose then.”

Calabro will have Drysdale to help him, at least in the short term. The outgoing publisher will continue to write for the paper.