Tribune, which publishes the Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union Tribune in Southern California, is the new owner of Freedom Communications and the Orange County Register and the Press-Enterprise in the Inland Empire. There were considerable pleas from a number of community leaders calling for the Register to retain “local ownership” but the bankruptcy judges went with the suitor best equipped to pay creditors and ensure the long term survival of the newspaper.
From the LA Times on the story:
If the $56-million cash purchase of Freedom Communications is approved at a hearing in bankruptcy court on Monday, it would mark a deep expansion in Southern California for Tribune Publishing Co.
The company, which last year bought the San Diego Union-Tribune, is looking to extend its reach in Southern California and save money by streamlining some business operations at a time when newspapers struggle to remain profitable.
The successful bid for the business of Freedom Communications will allow the Orange County Register and the Press-Enterprise to continue providing a distinct local voice in their communities and deliver premium news and information to consumers across Southern California,” Tribune Publishing Chief Executive Justin Dearborn said Thursday in a statement.
An insider group, which includes Freedom co-owner and Chief Executive Rich Mirman and Orange County developer Mike Harrah, withdrew from the process Wednesday evening after hours of negotiations and just before the auction’s official start.
The group complained about the fairness of the process, including how their bid was valued, according to an email from their attorney obtained by The Times.
There was a concern about possible anti-trust issues if Tribune emerged victorious, but those were likely swept aside because of different owners in Long Beach and the LA Daily News. My biggest concern is what happens to the Daily Pilot, an excellent publication that covers coastal OC and parts of Irvine. But not a lot changed at the San Diego paper once Tribune acquired it, though I have to believe the Register’s long history as a Libertarian-centric paper on the editorial side is about to get more balance in its Opinion section. There will likely be some consolidation of sports beats and arts & entertainment coverage where there is overlap with the LA Times, but I’m certain Tribune management will hold on to local government/city beats, business staff and select lifestyle talent at the Register.
In many ways, Tribune’s expansion into San Diego and now OC and the Inland Empire mirrors the print expansion strategy from former publisher Aaron Kusher who launched dailies in Los Angeles, Long Beach and expanded some community weeklies into a five day daily in a bid to create a regional advertising network. But now, it will be run by people with deep newspaper experience and strong ties to advertisers. It doesn’t make sense to buy the Register only to kill it.
What any newspaper publisher ought to realize is you cannot get addition via subtraction; good journalism, compelling stories, and reporters with deep institutional knowledge of Orange County are needed to tell the story. The county has changed and the Register needs to change with it.