On the day that Digital First Media completed its purchase of Freedom Communications — parent company of the Orange County Register and the Riverside Press-Enterprise — a wave of layoffs hit the Register.
Rob Curley, editor of the paper, confirmed Thursday that it would be his last day. He was among 70-plus staff members who were being let go from the editorial, circulation, advertising and marketing departments, according to sources who spoke on condition of anonymity when discussing the Register.
Reflecting on what he called the joys of working at a newspaper, Curley said: "I like the fact that we … can be a strong reflection of our community. The Register has always been known for taking these big chances visually. It's caring. It's thorough."
The paper's news operations now will be overseen by the newly formed Southern California News Group.
"We have long admired our new colleagues' work and are looking forward to working alongside them as part of our expanded team," said Ron Hasse, president of the publishing group and a 25-year veteran of Southern California newspapers.
"Our talent, scale and deeply invested news teams will be a benefit for readers, who will receive more of the news they need to stay informed about issues in their own backyards," he said.
Digital First bought Freedom for $49.8 million after a week that saw a higher bid in bankruptcy court from Tribune Publishing — parent company of the Los Angeles Times — derailed by Justice Department intervention on antitrust grounds.
"We are extremely excited to usher in a new era of stability, profitability and quality for these renowned papers," Sharon Ryan, executive vice president of Digital First's western region, said in a news release. "The Register and the Press-Enterprise have been longtime leaders in their regions, and as part of the DFM team, they will continue to outshine the competition."
Throughout the day Thursday at the Register headquarters near downtown Santa Ana, Curley strolled around, shaking hands and saying goodbye, sources there said. He joined Freedom in 2012 and, before becoming editor, served as deputy editor of local news, leading a relaunch of the Register's 22 community publications.
"I love so much about the Register. The people. The camaraderie and chemistry. … But I really love how it all comes together when a big story happens," Curley said.
"When the big jailbreak happened a few months ago, we … didn't [have to] tell anyone to come in on that Saturday," he said. "You looked up from your desk and realized all of the top editors have come in, and the newsroom is the most packed you've ever seen it on a weekend.
"The sense of mission and dedication was so inspiring to me. I didn't leave that night until the paper came off the presses."