Of the three options available for taking over Freedom Communication and the Orange County Register and Riverside Press Enterprise, I felt DigitalFirst Media was the worst of the three options. There were several efforts to promote “Team Mirman” to argue for “local ownership” of the Register, but Freedom Communications hasn’t been local since Aaron Kushner bought the paper and commuted regularly to OC from Boston.
A Department of Justice anti-trust lawsuit against apparent winner Tribune meant the paper went to DigitalFirst. So what does it mean?
DigitalFirst Media is a business name of MediaNews Group based in Denver which owns 800 media brands in print, digital, mobile, directories, and web platforms. In Southern California, the group owns the Los Angeles Daily News, Long Beach Press Telegram, the Torrance Daly Breeze, the daily papers in the San Gabriel Valley. Up north, they own the Mercury News, the Oakland Tribune and the Contra Costa Times. The Bay area papers will consolidate next week which appears to be the model for what might happen in Southern California.
So say goodbye to the Oakland Tribune, the Contra Costa Times, the Daily Review and the Argus which will become the East Bay Times under the banner of the Bay Area News Group, or BANG, which will consolidate and eliminate a number of journalists. The San Mateo County Times and the San Jose Mercury News will become The Mercury News, ant Knight Ridder alums everywhere weep.
From the Daily Cal:
According to Dan Smith, vice president of audience for BANG, the transition will be seamless.
“Our journalism has an audience of millions of readers in print and online, and we remain committed to enhancing the quality of that journalism,” Smith said. “In order to do so, we need to maintain an economic model that ensures a thriving Bay Area News Group so that we can continue to serve a well-informed Bay Area community.”
According to Smith, the consolidation is less a result of declining circulation levels and ad revenue, and more closely related to the findings of a print-reader survey conducted by BANG in the fall.
While the changes will result in staff reductions in newspaper production and content creation, other areas are expected to expand in response to preferences indicated in the reader survey — specifically environmental, local business and transportation reporting, Smith said.
Newspaper publishers have never quite figured out you can’t get addition by subtraction, so I’m just not sure how consolidating papers will help BANG grow. Quality journalism sells papers and when papers sell, advertisers come, especially in a market like Orange County which has the world’s 45th largest economy if it was it’s own nation (or so Lucy Dunn says).
So what’s likely to happen in OC? Sports staffs covering the Angels, Ducks, Dodgers, Kings, Rams, Lakers and Clippers are likely to be consolidated and content shared. Same for Arts & Entertainment coverage. Community reporting and local government beats are likely to be fine, but consumer-focused news, features, opinion sections are likely to be hit.
I’d expect the new publisher to offer buyouts for senior editors and reporters, sacrificing valuable experience and institutional knowledge for younger and less expensive journalists. The biggest changes are likely to be those at the top of the masthead. The biggest question remains; will the Register’s libertarian identity remain? We’re about to find out.