Death in the Morning

After 110 years of publishing, the Houston Post didn't even bother to say goodbye.

To almost no one's surprise -- except apparently some Post employees -- the Post was put out of its financial misery this week when the Hearst Corporation, owner of the Houston Chronicle, announced it had purchased the city's No. 2 newspaper (reportedly for $110 million) and was closing it.

In keeping with the classless way the Post management had operated the past few years, employees who arrived for work Tuesday morning were told the paper was closing and they had until 5 o'clock that afternoon to clear out their desks. There would be no final "good-bye" edition and no explanation to longtime readers, just dead silence from the newspaper where O. Henry once toiled and which possesses the only Pulitzer Prize ever won by a Houston daily.

Until Tuesday, it had been business as usual, at least in the paper's newsroom. Features writer Randall Patterson was in the midst of a bicycle tour across Texas; medical reporter Frank Bass had left the previous evening for Guatemala with a team of surgeons going there to perform charity work. In fact, the Post's management kept up the pretense of being in business until the last bitter moment, refusing to acknowledge to the paper's executive editor on Monday evening that anything was in the works, even as rumors about the paper's demise reached a crescendo.

"The only people who knew were the money people," said Mike Hailey, who had just signed on as the Post's political writer and had put in two weeks and two days before becoming eligible for severance pay.

But in fact, the Post had been wheezing on life support for years, and it's a small wonder that owners Dean Singleton and MediaNews were able to keep the paper in business for so long, even after Dallas and San Antonio had become one-daily paper towns. Rumors about the Post's future had been flying for months, with one strange but prominent bit of buzz having the Belo Corporation, owner of Channel 11 and the Dallas Morning News, buying all or part of the Post. That was the one employees pinned their hopes on, but in the end there was no white knight and no rescue.

In a bloodless written explanation (of sorts) to employees, publisher Ike Massey blamed "unprecedented and devastating" increases in the cost of newsprint for the throwing-in-the-towel, although others outside the paper speculated that the debt Singleton carried from his 1987 purchase of the paper was the real reason. Little enlightenment on the move and what the future bodes for Houston was immediately forthcoming from the Hearst Corporation, although it's a safe bet that advertising and subscription rates for the Chronicle will soon be headed up.

-- Jim Simmon, Michael Berryhill


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