By Lou BaldwinSpecial to The CS&T
February happens to be Catholic Press Month, and while the newspaper Phil Heron edits, the Delaware County Daily Times, is a secular paper, he is Catholic. For that matter, many of its almost 40,000 subscribers in heavily Catholic Delaware County are probably also Catholic.
Sacred Heart Parish in Oxford, where he was an altar server, didn’t have a school when he was a child, but Assumption B.V.M. in West Grove did. So his parents sent him to that school, 10 miles away.
“I spent eight years under the tutelage of Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and they instilled in me the technical use of the English language that has served me in my career,” said Heron, who is now a member of St. Joseph’s Parish in Downingtown.
There were no Catholic high schools anywhere close, so he attended Oxford High School and after that continued on to Lincoln University. At the time it was an almost entirely African-American school. “It was truly a great experience,” he said.
One of his brothers had relocated to Colorado, and after his sophomore year he followed him with the intention of finishing a degree in journalism at the University of Colorado. But the tuition for an out of state student was far more expensive than for a Coloradan, so he took a job working at the Denver Marriott to establish residency, which he did after a year and a half.
As a journalism student he did some stringer work with the Denver Post which, “believe it or not was still using manual typewriters,” he said. After college he returned to Pennsylvania and worked for a short time for the Coatesville Record. In 1982 he joined the staff of the Delaware County Daily Times, where he has been editor since 1999.
The Times, he explained, tries very much to be the paper of record for Delaware County. While world, national and state news is covered by the paper, he insists there be local news on a continuing basis.
“We looked at the State of the Union Address,” Heron noted, but added, “Obituaries are unbelievably important to us and we still run the name of every high school graduate in the county.”
His paper relies heavily on single-copy sales, especially to commuters, more so than home subscriptions. For this reason the front page tends to have multiple pictures and headlines to catch the eyes of purchasers.
“I want to sell as many newspapers as I can,” Heron said. “We report the news; there are a lot of crime stories.”
One thing that has changed at the Times as at all newspapers is the increasing importance of the Internet. In many instances a breaking news story is made available through the web site before it sees print.
“People don’t want to wait until the next day to read about it,” he said.
While it is true advertising, which is the real bread and butter of newspapers, is less on the Internet than in print, Heron believes this is beginning to change as advertisers realize the importance of the Internet.
What about issues of importance to Catholics? The Times actually gave better coverage to the annual March for Life than either of Philadelphia’s major papers. Heron knows this is of importance to his audience.
But there are times when the circumstances result in a story, which some might see presenting the Church in a bad light, for example on school closings or the clergy sex abuse crisis.
“I respect the Archdiocese, but they know there are times when we call that it will not be under the best circumstances,” he said. “Nothing pains me more than stories on the scandals.”
As a newspaperman, Heron tries to stay in the middle, just reporting the story, whatever it is.
“We do have separation of Church and State,” he said, “but I rely constantly on my faith and my moral upbringing. There is conflict, yes, most days, but I still think I can maintain a sound moral balance.”
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.