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O.C. Register's owner to impose furloughs, scale back Long Beach paper

Newspaper and MagazineWilliam Lyon Homes IncorporatedFreedom Communications, Inc.
O.C. Register owner announces furloughs, offers buyouts and merges Long Beach Register into L.A. counterpart.
Troubles at owner of O.C. Register amid massive print expansion prompt furloughs, buyouts
'Critics will try to say that we have failed,' O.C. Register owner Aaron Kushner says of expansion

Less than a year after Freedom Communications Inc. launched the Long Beach Register, a six-day-a-week newspaper, the Santa Ana company announced Tuesday it would fold its Long Beach coverage into the nearly 7-week-old Los Angeles Register.

The company, publisher of the Orange County Register, is struggling amid its massive print expansion into Long Beach and Los Angeles.

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FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this post misspelled the last name of Long Beach Register editor Paul Eakins as Easkin.

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In a memo to the newsroom, the company said it would require two-week furloughs by employees companywide, offer voluntary buyout packages to journalists, and restructure its sales staff. The furloughs must be taken by the end of July. 

"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," the memo by co-owners Aaron Kushner and Eric Spitz said. "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."

Freedom will retain its Long Beach bureau but will publish a stand-alone edition of the Long Beach Register only on Sundays, beginning June 15, the company said. The other days of the week the L.A. Register will feature a Long Beach section. 

"There will still be extensive Long Beach coverage," said Paul Eakins, editor of the Long Beach Register.  

Kushner sought to reassure the staff he is committed to the newspaper's operations. 

"Critics will try to say that we have failed. To the contrary, the failure would be if we did not try at all, or if in our measured success we did not adapt so that we could continue to invest in our growth," he wrote. 

Neither Kushner nor a company spokesman responded immediately to a request for additional comment.

Separately, Freedom has reached an agreement with William Lyon Homes under which the Newport Beach home builder gained the rights to acquire the Register’s Santa Ana headquarters and surrounding land, according to a filing with the Orange County Clerk-Recorder. The agreement expires in December 2015, the filing says.

Freedom, William Lyon and the city of Santa Ana have held discussions about the potential sale and development of the Register's land, including talks about a possible mix of residential and commercial development, said Karen Haluza, interim executive director of the city’s planning and building agency. 

Freedom has said it plans to maintain the Register’s headquarters in its Grand Avenue building after any sale, Haluza said.

Kushner had been aggressively growing Freedom's operations since his investor group bought the company for a reported $50 million to $60 million two years ago.

He bulked up the Orange County Register with about 175 new reporters and editors, launched the six-day-a-week Long Beach Register last year and bought the Riverside Press-Enterprise for nearly $27.3 million last November. 

He then laid off 71 editorial staffers early this year and pushed into Los Angeles with existing staff.

Kushner is betting that a strong focus on local news and a keen eye on expenses will win back print readers. Wary newspaper experts question whether he can lead the industry out of its tailspin of the last decade caused largely by advertisers shifting their spending to Internet sites.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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Newspaper and MagazineWilliam Lyon Homes IncorporatedFreedom Communications, Inc.
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