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OC Register envisions a print future

While other newspapers around the country are turning to new business models and a focus on digital, the Orange County Register is rebelling. For the Register, print has become the new vision in an increasingly digital landscape.

Recent events at the newspaper can be chalked up to Aaron Kushner and Eric Spitz, the new owners of the Register and an additional six properties, which is all that remains after the previous owners began selling their holdings piecemeal over the last 18-plus months. A group of investors and banks took over the newspaper group in 2010, when the founding family exited bankruptcy reorganization. Now under new ownership, Kushner and Spitz are reportedly looking to enhance the quality and content of the paper product.

Over the last several months, this vision has been put into action, with several pages and sections debuting, including the new Focus page, a daily addition that provides in-depth views of state, national and international news. This new page is characterized by its color, graphics, timelines, charts, photos and data. Meanwhile, in late October the paper launched the Eye on OC, a page dedicated to entertainment, celebrities and Orange County exclusive events. A section called OCVarsity Hot Shots also debuted as a weekly standalone section, featuring spotlights from Orange County high school football. Also bulking up the paper is a standalone four-to-eight-page daily business section featuring news related to Orange County.

In addition to the new regular pages and sections, the paper has also featured several special sections since the ownership duo took over in June. Recently, an eight-page special section dedicated to the 2012-13 NBA season was included in the paper. A 32-page section previewing the auto show at the Anaheim Convention Center also appeared in October, while another eight-page section highlighting the U.S. women’s gymnastics team made an appearance in September. Not to mention that the paper’s comics section is now featured in color on a daily basis, which can only mean added costs.

The newspaper has also welcomed new staff members into its fold, including Donna Wares, who joined the paper as a business editor. Other recent hires include city reporter Mike Reicher, auto critic Susan Carpenter, sports night assistant editor Chuck Scott, Rich Hammond on the USC beat, UCLA athletics reporter Ryan Kartje and Jeff Fletcher leading baseball coverage. Additionally, four reporters are set to join the investigative news team with a possible total of 100 new positions added at the end of the hiring spree.

Although both owners declined to speak with inVocus at this time, it’s obvious they have put a lot of faith into the print product. Poynter Institute analyst Rick Edmonds noted that despite the national consensus among newspaper types that the focus should be on balancing print and digital, or going digital-first, concentrating on print isn’t necessarily wrong. Instead, he noted, it’s an interesting experiment. He also added that some papers may have gone too far in the cutbacks that hit almost every newspaper in the last  few years, and this could be a case where the print product needed replenishing anyway. “There becomes a danger that they’re really not offering a big enough paper or a good enough paper to satisfy enough people,” he said.

Meanwhile, papers are being sold much more inexpensively than they were 10 years ago. “People who are fairly rich in the first place can afford to go buy them and then run them the way they like; they don’t care whether Wall Street likes that idea or not,” said Edmonds.

–Katrina M. Mendolera

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