It’s no surprise to see the news today that the LA Register newspaper is folding and giving up on its grand experiment in print journalism. All of us who love newspapers had great hopes but knew that this was probably an ill-fated effort to restore an antiquated concept of actually reading your news in a printed format delivered to your door.
The editors, Aaron Kushner and Eric Spitz, told readers the 5-month experiment ended with the Sept. 23 edition. They noted that readers “tell us regularly how much you enjoy our approach to newspapering. Unfortunately, not enough readers took us up on our offering…”
They notified the staff last night via email from a “Do not reply” email address, as noted by Asher Klein on Twitter. It seems a little tacky for a news operation to use email – much less a Do Not Reply address – for such personally devastating news to its staff. Moreover, Asher tweeted today he still doesn’t know what this means for his future employment with Freedom Communications, which owns the Register and other papers.
The LA Times reports that the memo to the staff said: “There will be some staff changes with our content team as part of the changes in Los Angeles. For those that will be leaving, we say thank you. We are most grateful for their service to the community.”
Freedom Communications said it is transitioning Long Beach and Orange County subscribers to their Long Beach and OC editions, which it owns. In his memo to the staff, which was quoted in the LA Times, Kushner said the company will now focus on core markets in Orange County, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, where the company has decades-long and “deep relationships with subscribers and advertisers.”
While the LA Register’s demise is another nail in the coffin of print journalism, it should also be noted that the owners never fully staffed the LA Register to cover LA. Instead, editors re-purposed content created by reporters for their other papers – a common practice with all papers with joint ownership.
Newspapers that do this profitably and successfully also have a large enough staff to produce some significant share of content that is unique to the geographic region the papers serve. Clearly, covering the sprawling metropolis of LA requires quite a few reporters, and the Register simply didn’t have that many.
In addition, the LA Register never fully evolved as a separate edition. Even the IP address still has the OC Register in it: http://epaper.ocregister.com/Olive/ODE/LARegister/?elq=863a186506ca4802aa6f27cf7eb6e5a8&elqCampaignId=9129
All in all, it was a valiant but misguided and underfunded effort to rekindle an interest in newspapers at a time when we increasingly rely on mobile devices and other means to get our news. We’re sorry to see it go. We hate to see more reporters who may be out of work. But its demise seemed inevitable.
Money has been a problem for Freedom. Just yesterday, it announced it had sold the Orange County Register’s Santa Ana headquarters to developer Michael Harrah for $27 million. The OC Register announced that Freedom will lease back the 175,000-square-foot building, located on Grand Avenue just off Interstate 5, for 20 years. Freedom still owns the adjacent property that houses the company’s printing presses. According to the Register, Kushner said Freedom decided to sell the company’s headquarters “to further strengthen our balance sheet.”