June 13, 2014
/ by Katrina M Mendolera
The ball continues to drop at the Orange County Register, which showed the first signs of staggering under the weight of a robust staff, multiple new launches and thicker sections in January. Aaron Kushner must have made the newspaper gods unhappy with his push toward growth and a focus on the print product, because mandatory two-week furloughs through June and July were recently announced, as were buyouts and layoffs in the sales department.
When Kushner and Eric Spitz purchased Freedom Communications almost two years ago, they started hiring. Roughly 170 journalists later, the newspaper’s newsroom nearly doubled, a noticeable anomaly when the majority of the newspaper industry was making severe cutbacks just to stay afloat.
Then, in January, the Register laid off 32 people. Early reports indicated that finances were tight due to a lawsuit against Freedom, as well as struggles building circulation at the daily. Now, the Register is laying off or buying out a potential 100 journalists, as well as reducing page counts by a quarter, reported Ryan Chittum at the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR). In addition, the Long Beach Register, launched less than a year ago as a daily, is being folded into the paper’s Los Angeles edition.
OCWeekly.com has a list of those that have already been laid off, including graphics reporter Sandy Coronilla, sports columnist TJ Simers, staff writer Keith Sharon, business columnist Kevin Sablan, and fashion editor Julie Gallego.
However, the Register’s problems shouldn’t come as a big surprise. Chittum’s recent CJR report noted that Freedom was paying down long-term obligations at the same time that it was adding 400 jobs and print production costs without a capital cushion. Pair the company’s financial standings with a focus that didn’t include major revamps to the digital business side, and the bottom was always at risk of falling out.
Chittum pointed out that the Register’s disregard for the digital aspects of the newspaper was especially worrying. “As I wrote, the company may have been emphasizing print, ‘[y]et the most conceivable future for newspapers, 10 or 20 years hence, is one in which they have converted print and hybrid subscribers to digital-only subscribers, shedding much of the cost of production and distribution. The Register will pick up few digital-only subscribers at $30 a month, particularly when its website and tablet apps are so weak. If the bet is truly on content and not the medium, digital will require serious investment, too,’” Chittum wrote. “That’s still true. And by investment, in this case, that meant equity, not debt.”
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