EVERETT — A new hire and an old hand were on board when the first Sunday Herald rolled off the presses April 5, 1981.
Julie Muhlstein, a few years out of college, had been hired by The Daily Herald a month before.
Reporter Jim Haley, known for his tweed cap, long hair and beard, had been hoofing it to and from the Snohomish County Courthouse since 1966. Both contributed to the first edition — Muhlstein as a copy editor; Haley with a feature on the Lowell Community Church.
Haley’s career at The Herald spanned 42 years; Muhlstein’s, 40 years. At the time each of them retired, they likely led the staff all-time in Sunday edition bylines.
There’s a reason for reminiscing.
Today marks the end of an era for The Herald’s Sunday newspaper. After 41 years and some 2,100 issues, the Sunday edition will cease publishing.
Starting Jan. 3, The Herald will begin using the U.S. Postal Service for same-day delivery.
With the change, the Saturday paper will become an expanded weekend edition, featuring many of the sections that appeared in the thicker Sunday edition, including the Opinion section, Panorama and entertainment news.
On New Year’s Eve, readers will receive the first expanded weekend edition, the last issue to be delivered by a carrier.
Going forward, the Tuesday through Saturday printed newspapers will arrive with the regular mail delivery.
Monday will become a digital-only day. Readers can view the entire print edition online at HeraldNet.com or on the Herald app.
Single copies of the print editions will still be available at stores, gas stations and other outlets. There’s no change there.
Delivering newspapers by mail isn’t a new thing. The practice has been around since the nation’s infancy. Congress wanted the U.S. Postal Service to send newspapers and periodicals to subscribers at a nominal cost, and in some cases for free.
In the first major postal law, passed in 1792, the rate was a penny for up to 100 miles and 1½ cents for anything beyond that, according to a history of the U.S. Postal Service. On the other hand, letter writers were charged 6 cents to 25 cents depending on distance traveled.
Two hundred and thirty years later, The Daily Herald is joining newspapers in this state and around the country turning to the postal service to get a paper in the hands of subscribers.
Though no longer dirt cheap, mail has emerged as the best, and possibly last, option to preserve the tradition of home delivery in the face of a continuing shortage of workers willing to deliver the paper each morning.
“This is not an economic issue,” Herald Publisher Rudi Alcott said. “The biggest factor is we owe it to our subscribers.”
‘We had no choice’
It boils down to not having enough people to deliver the paper.
Delivery drivers are in short supply these days, lured away by better-paying food delivery jobs and other more lucrative gigs, without the early morning hours.
With that roadblock, publishers across the United States are choosing to mail their newspapers to cope with driver shortages, high fuel costs and the general decline of print newspaper subscribers, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The Herald contracts with The Seattle Times to get its papers delivered, Alcott said. The Times used three distributors to handle the work, with each covering about a third of the load, he explained.
Earlier this fall, Alcott said, one of the three notified The Times it was pulling out. The two remaining firms could not cover all the turf, leaving no clear path for daily deliveries to several thousand Herald subscribers, Alcott said. The Herald moved to cancel its contract effective Jan. 1.
“We had no choice but to make the changes,” he said. “We owe it to our customers to get the newspaper to them in the format they wanted in the best way that we could.”
The transition had already begun. In the past six months, roughly 2,500 of the company’s 19,000 print subscribers were shifted to mail delivery because of persistent issues stemming from a lack of carriers, Alcott said.
“This is not a blame game. The Seattle Times did an admirable job keeping it together,” he said. “This is going to affect them as much as us.”
Some Seattle Times subscribers in Snohomish County are receiving their paper in the mail today.
To get same-day delivery, The Herald must bring newspapers directly to each of the 23 post offices in the paper’s circulation areas. That will happen Tuesday through Saturday. Alcott said they opted to not print on Mondays because several federal holidays are observed on that day and they could not deliver the paper.
Herald employees learned of the pending change in late November through an internal email from Alcott.
The Herald is the only seven-day-a-week newspaper Sound Publishing owns and operates in Washington — and while the print edition is changing, there will be virtually no changes to daily operations and news updates online. In fact, The Herald has been hiring more digital staff. Most of Sound’s other print publications are weekly. Many are only online.
Alcott said there are no plans to move in that direction with The Herald, adding this move is only occurring because of a shortage of delivery workers. No Herald employees have been laid off due to the change, he said.
“If the Postal Service delivered on Sundays, we’d have a Sunday edition,” he said.
On the other side of the state in 1981, a journalism student at Washington State University was doing the happy dance. Eric Stevick’s first “real byline” showed up as a wire story in the Herald’s first Sunday edition. Stevick didn’t know it then, but he would later serve as the paper’s local news editor.
Seeing the Sunday paper go away is a double-edged sword for Stevick, who retired a year ago.
“The sentimental part of me will miss holding the Sunday paper in my hands,” he said. “The pragmatic side of me realizes that this is the future of newspapers.”
Stevick fondly remembers his first daily newspaper byline on page D-13 in that first Sunday Herald.
“An editor asked me to freelance a story that involved a student from Mukilteo, who was part of a group opposed to the university spending money earmarked for academics on athletics,” Stevick said. “The story was buried deep in the sports section, but that didn’t matter to me. I felt like I was part of something big, a newspaper that was expanding.”
Less than a decade later, Stevick was hired by The Herald. Soon, he was writing Sunday stories, usually “longer pieces that were richer in content and more deeply reported,” Stevick said.
Now, “the economic pressures facing the newspaper industry make it more difficult to publish the print edition each day,” he said.
“I only hope that stories with great depth on local issues and personalities aren’t lost in the continued transition to the online world,” Stevick said. “It doesn’t have to be that way. I do believe you can have that depth in the digital age, but I will miss poring over the Sunday paper in its printed form.”
The Sunday edition
The Herald traces its roots to the 1901 publication the Daily Independent, according to historylink.org. But it would be another 80 years before a Sunday delivery.
In January 1981, The Herald announced it would become a seven-day newspaper that spring. Until then, it had been a six-day publication with a weekend edition on Saturdays.
On March 30, 1981, a week before the first Sunday Herald landed on driveways and doorsteps, President Ronald Reagan was shot and seriously injured in Washington, D.C. The era of the space shuttle was about to begin.
Muhlstein, a longtime columnist whose career at The Herald spanned more than four decades, was there for its debut.
“I was part of it — as a newbie on the newspaper’s copy desk,” Muhlstein wrote, just before she retired in 2021.
Her first brush with The Herald came in 1978 as an intern “back in the typewriter days.” She would work for The East Oregonian in Pendleton, before landing a job at The Herald in March 1981.
The first Sunday Herald had 74 pages in six sections, plus a 27-page Venture magazine-style section produced by the staff. In the Venture section, outdoor writer Wayne Kruse and photographer Rich Shulman took readers on a vicarious hang gliding adventure.
In 2021, Kim Heltne, a former executive assistant at The Herald, shared editors’ correspondence as the Sunday edition was being planned. The words of Joann Byrd, Herald executive editor from 1981 to 1992, jumped out from a letter she created back then on a typewriter, Heltne said.
“Sunday should be substantive. Getting behind the straight news stories, to pull out the people and the reasons, is the major thing I want us to do all week,” Byrd wrote.
Byrd would later serve as ombudsman for The Washington Post, then editor of the editorial page at The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which ceased publishing in March 2009.
The Post owned The Herald from 1978 until 2013. That’s when the paper was sold to Canada’s Black Press, which operates as Sound Publishing in Washington.
‘Changed a lot of people’s lives’
Larry Hanson, who spent 45 years with The Herald, was vice president of marketing in 1981.
“My memories are of all the hard work and planning that led up to it, and of getting The Washington Post to do it,” Hanson told The Daily Herald in 2021.
The staff was ramped up before the Sunday paper started.
“That changed a lot of people’s lives,” said Hanson, who retired as Herald publisher in 2002.
He recalled upended schedules. What had been a five-day publication, with a small Saturday staff, turned into a seven-day operation.
Readers saw another big change that day. With the Sunday paper, the name was no longer The Everett Herald or its Western Sun edition in south Snohomish County. It became simply The Herald. In 2009, the name changed again. Since then, it has been The Daily Herald.
Topics reached far beyond Everett.
The lead story, “Bracing for ferry shutdown,” by Joe Copeland and Byron Acohido, was a preview of a 13-hour protest strike planned by ferry workers. The other major front-page story: “Boeing’s plans are out of this world” by Scott Wilson. It looked ahead to the space shuttle Columbia’s first flight on April 12, 1981, and the company’s immense role in “orbital space.”
Local stories, on a page labeled Community, included Jim Haley’s feature on the Lowell Community Church and Mark Funk’s look at the changing Edmonds waterfront.
A Perspective section featured “A Look at Our Faults” by Mark Harden, exploring the region’s earthquake risks. In Sports, Herald writer John McDonald profiled the new Seattle Mariners manager, Maury Wills, whose 26-win, 56-loss stint as skipper was as dismal as it was brief.
There are things in that Sunday paper we wouldn’t see now, such as full-page cigarette ads. And many things we take for granted today, like email and the HeraldNet website, were a long way off in 1981, Muhlstein wrote.
“I remember that spring of 1981 as a heady, newsy, exciting time,” Muhlstein said last year.
Muhlstein said she is saddened by the loss of the Sunday paper.
“It’s not the newspaper I recognize,” she said.
Mission won’t change
Scott North, a former reporter and local news editor who left The Herald for a government job in 2018, recalls the first Sunday story he penned.
A week after he was hired in 1987, North was still unpacking boxes when he heard a knock at his apartment door.
There stood executive editor Stan Strick. He wanted North and crime reporter Jim Haley to write the “definitive story” chronicling the Nov. 14, 1987 killing of two Island County deputies at the Island County jail in Coupeville.
“I was so new, I didn’t have a phone yet,” North said of Strick’s visit.
“Jim and I spent the better part of a week learning everything we could about the person who was responsible and what it meant to the community,” he said. “We worked at a breakneck pace.”
During North’s 31-year career at The Herald, the Sunday edition “was the place you wanted your stories to be,” North said. “You invest time and energy in the writing and photography and consider how to tell the story best. Fifty-two shots a year and they were all precious.”
Sunday wasn’t just the place where reporters and editors tried to showcase their best work.
“It was where we could reliably plan to tell the stories that required time,” North said. “The press of breaking news and reporting on actions of government and business rightfully demanded a claim to prime space on the weekday news budgets.”
The decision to discontinue the Sunday edition is a hard pill to swallow, North said.
“The notion of having the U.S. mail deliver the news to my house — I can’t yet wrap my head around that and how that’s going to work,” he said. “I will look at it, but I’m more interested in the content.”
Will The Herald’s tradition of deep dive journalism live on?
“Enterprise and investigative reporting is among the most important work we do in the Herald newsroom,” Executive Editor Phillip O’Connor said, a refrain he has repeated often with reporting staff. “We take our public service mission seriously and that won’t change. We will continue to publish comprehensive stories both in print and online that hold the powerful to account, identify injustice, expose abuse and lead to positive change.”
Janice Podsada: 425-339-3097; firstname.lastname@example.org;
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