Abels named new Herald publisher; Canepa moving to Columbus, Ga., paper

Valerie Canepa will leave her position as president and publisher of The Herald and take on the same role for the Ledger-Enquirer in Columbus, Ga., Canepa announced Wednesday.

Canepa will be replaced by Debbie Abels, director of advertising operations and strategy at The Charlotte Observer. The Herald, the Observer and Ledger-Enquirer are all owned by The McClatchy Co., a chain of 31 daily papers across the country.

"I am thrilled to be going, except that I have to leave," Canepa told Herald staff Wednesday. "This will be a shift for us, but it's not a scary shift."

Canepa, 48, leaves The Herald after more than four years with the newspaper. At her new post, she will guide a newspaper with a daily circulation of 42,272 and more than 200 employees, compared to The Herald's 31,614 daily circulation and 130 employees.

Her community involvement included serving on the boards of the York Regional Chamber of Commerce, the City Club of Rock Hill, the Arts Council of Rock Hill and the Rock Hill Rotary Club.

"Valerie is a terrific human being as well as a dedicated, hardworking newspaper executive," said Lynn Dickerson, McClatchy vice president of operations for newspapers in Texas and the South, including the Ledger-Enquirer and The Herald. "I have no doubt Valerie will be just as successful in Columbus as she has been in Rock Hill."

A native of New York City, Abels, 55, graduated from Duke University and was a cellist with the Western Piedmont Symphony for 10 years. She has 34 years of experience at the Observer, where she began her newspaper career as an advertising assistant. She worked her way up to lead the human resources, circulation distribution and classified advertising departments at the Observer.

Among her most recent responsibilities has been overseeing cooperation between the Observer and The Herald. As Herald publisher, Abels also will oversee the paper's affiliated community publications: the Enquirer-Herald, the Fort Mill Times and the Lake Wylie Pilot.

Unlike Canepa, who reported directly to Dickerson, Abels will report to Observer publisher Ann Caulkins.

"Debbie has a very broad background and has succeeded in every job she has held at the Observer," Dickerson said. "She is uniquely qualified to take over as the new publisher in Rock Hill. Her team-building skills are proven, and she will undoubtedly help The Herald continue its winning ways."

Caulkins said Abels "has a deep knowledge of the industry. She's going to be excellent in her new role."

Abels said her experience with the Observer will help the two newspapers work together more efficiently. The papers became sisters last year when The Herald's parent company, McClatchy, purchased the Observer as part of its Knight-Ridder acquisition.

Abels said there are no long-term plans to merge the two newspapers or to change The Herald's focus as the community paper for York and Chester counties.

"I'm not looking at any one thing that needs changing. ... I want to look at the good things already going on and see how we can do even more," Abels said, noting the paper will remain committed to serving as a government watchdog, a voice for the community and a reliable source of information for residents. "The Herald must maintain its identity as a local, community paper."

Abels said she looks forward to getting involved in the community. In Charlotte, she has served on the boards of several civic organizations. She is the vice chairwoman of the board at WDAV, the public radio station associated with Davidson College, and is a member of the board of Community School of the Arts, as well as the past board president. She is a member of the Symphony Guild of Charlotte and does volunteer work with the Charlotte Council for International Visitors and Community Connections/Business for Russia.

Canepa said Abels is well-suited for her new role.

"If we would have gone outside the company to find the perfect fit, we wouldn't have found anyone better than Debbie," Canepa said.

Canepa and Abels will spend the next few weeks in transition, and Abels will take over at The Herald full time Nov. 26.