At Orange County Register, bad news keeps on coming

OC Register

A week after Aaron Kushner announced major cuts at the Orange County Register and its affiliated papers, it sounds like the wheels may be coming off. In an interview with Larry Mantle of Southern California Public Radio, Kushner kept insisting that the cuts were nothing but a temporary setback, saying:

To continue to invest and grow over the long term, we have to align our cost structure with what we now know we can achieve in revenue growth. Doing so will not be easy and will impact all of us, but it is necessary to ensure a strong and healthy future for our newspapers.

But Mantle was having none of it. He pressed Kushner on the all-but-closing of the start-up Long Beach Register and asked him if he expected his newest paper, the Los Angeles Register, to compete seriously with the Los Angeles Times. Kushner’s answers might best be described as on message to a fault, leading to this testy exchange near the end:

Mantle: I have to say, if I worked for you, hearing your description and the lack of specifics, I’d be very nervous about the future.

Kushner: Any other questions?

Meanwhile, Gustavo Arellano, editor of the OC Weekly, an alternative paper that has been so dubious of Kushner’s plans that it even has a blog category called “OC Register Death Watch,” posted a scorcher on Monday, reporting that the Register’s staff is all but fleeing toward the exits. Arellano quotes a “longtimer” as saying of Kushner, “He’s lost the newsroom. No one has any faith in him at all. People want to get the hell out while they can.”

(An aside: If everything is truly coming apart, why did the “longtimer” think it was necessary to remain anonymous? And why did Arellano go ahead and quote him anyway? Look, I’ve been there and done that. And there’s no reason to think the quote doesn’t reflect the genuine sentiment of the newsroom. But I’m more skeptical of anonymous quotes these days than I used to be, and I think readers are too.)

I continue to hope that Kushner and his business partner, Eric Spitz, can right their leaking ship. But the simplest explanation for what is happening is that Kushner never had a real plan — he simply thought that all he had to do was spend lavishly and readers and advertisers would flock to his side.

Newspaper analyst Ken Doctor, whom I would characterize as a sympathetic Kushner observer up until now, weighed in with a devastating piece last week. I linked to it then, and here it is again. I recommend it highly.

More: “Everyone says our strategy has failed. Perhaps they should be saying that our strategy has not succeeded?”

Photo (cc) by Denise Sonicberg and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

4 thoughts on “At Orange County Register, bad news keeps on coming

  1. Mike Benedict

    “I have to say, if I worked for you, hearing your description and the lack of specifics, I’d be very nervous about the future.”

    That’s not a question. It’s a statement, and a lazy one at that. In that context, Kushner’s response seems appropriate.

    1. Dan Kennedy Post author

      @Mike: No, it’s not a question, but given everything that had come before, I think it was a defensible attempt to see if he could get a rise out of Kushner and get him to deviate from his talking points.

  2. Gustavo Arellano

    Just saw this. I can tell you why that longtimer and other reporters want to remain anonymous: retribution for the current staffers, fear of ruining their non-disclosure clauses for those who took buyouts. You would’ve found the same if you did reporting on this story, too! And toward that: OC Register Death Watch existed long before Kushner even wanted the Boston Globe.

    1. Dan Kennedy Post author

      @Gustavo: Thanks for checking in. Let’s just say I’m less enthusiastic about quoting people anonymously than I used to be. I freely admit that I regularly quoted media people anonymously back when I was at the Phoenix for exactly the reasons you describe. But I’ve changed my mind about the practice, and I no longer do it. Not to say I might not find a reason to do it at some point in the future, but I’d give it more thought than I used to.

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