Orange County Register headquarters in Santa Ana

Newsroom layoffs hit the Orange Country Register and Riverside Press-Enterprise on Thursday, a troubling sign for the papers. Above, the Register's Santa Ana headquarters. (Los Angeles Times)

Significant layoffs hit the newsrooms Thursday at the Orange County Register and the Riverside Press-Enterprise, a troubling sign for the Aaron Kushner-owned publications.

Exact numbers have not been released at the Register, although the cuts there are reported to number roughly 35 people. The paper’s editor, Ken Brusic, and most other top editorial managers have departed, according to multiple sources in the newsroom who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak. Rob Curley, deputy editor of local news, has assumed the editor position, at least temporarily.

Cutbacks at the Press-Enterprise, meanwhile, totaled 39, according to a memo circulated internally late Wednesday and reviewed by the Los Angeles Times. The reductions were not limited to the newsroom, but at least a dozen copy editors have been laid off, according to numerous individuals at the newspaper. Affected employees are being given severance of one week’s pay per year of employment.

A spokesman for Freedom Communications, which owns both papers, did not respond to requests for comment. Neither the editor of the Press-Enterprise, Michael Coronado, nor Curley at the Register returned calls.

The cuts, particularly at the Register, mark a worrisome about-face for a company that has been aggressively expanding in the last year and has hired over 100 journalists in the process. Freedom was acquired by Kushner, best known as a former greeting card company executive, in mid-2012 for $50 million plus assumption of pension and other liabilities. In November, Freedom bought the Press-Enterprise from A.H. Belo Corp. for $27.5 million.

Since taking over, Kushner has launched a new daily paper, the Long Beach Register, and late last year announced plans to debut a newspaper covering Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Register. At the same time, he has dramatically increased focus on print products and ratcheted back the digital presence of his papers.

Many media critics have praised Kushner’s strategy, which runs contrary to the deep cuts most other papers have undertaken in recent years. But Kushner has been beset by numerous lawsuits and has acknowledged that Freedom was not profitable for the first half of 2013, raising concerns that his plan was having financial difficulties.

More information on Thursday’s layoffs is expected to emerge later in the day. 

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