Layoffs expected at financially troubled O.C. Register

Orange County Register
Freedom Communications Inc. is showing signs of financial distress. The parent company of the Orange County Register, whose headquarters are shown, is expected to announce layoffs Monday.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Layoffs are expected at the Orange County Register six days after its parent company announced cost cuts, including buyouts, immediate furloughs and the merging of newly launched newspapers in Long Beach and Los Angeles.

Several staffers already have announced their departures through social media, though it’s unclear if they were leaving voluntarily or not.

They include sports columnist T.J. Simers, who explained in a weekend column that he took a buyout rather than risk a layoff. At least six others announced their departures through Facebook and Twitter.

Last week, Freedom said it was offering buyouts to newsroom employees.


According to staffers, Register Editor Rob Curley told them the company planned to cut 20 to 100 jobs, depending on the salaries of those accepting buyouts.

The company last week offered severance packages to journalists, who had until Monday to decide whether to take up to 20 weeks’ of pay to leave voluntarily.

Requests for comment from Aaron Kushner, the Register’s owner, and Eric Morgan, a company spokesman, were not immediately returned Monday. 

Morgan would not confirm the buyout target range last week but acknowledged that layoffs would “be the second option if we do not reach a sufficient participation level.”


Employees who take the company’s buyout offer will leave by June 20.

The Santa Ana company’s latest cutbacks are an about-face from two years ago, when former greeting card company executive Aaron Kushner bought the Orange County Register for between $50 million and $60 million.

He pledged then to bulk up the newspaper staff and expand the print product, rather than invest heavily in online operations. It launched several hyper-local newspaper sections and set up a pay wall on its website. Kushner followed up by buying the Riverside Press-Enterprise last year for $27.25 million.

Freedom’s bold expansion had been heralded as a vote of confidence in newspapers at a time when advertisers are shifting away from print media. Skeptics wondered why Kushner was focused on print while other news organizations have been concentrating on their digital operations.

Signs of financial distress have been on display for months. In January, Freedom Communications laid off 71 employees after its Press-Enterprise purchase. Management described the move as a “difficult but important restructuring” necessary “to tackle the next phase of our growth.”

Last week, it said it would merge the Long Beach Register, a newspaper started in August, into its Los Angeles counterpart, launched in April.  It has also imposed immediate two-week furloughs companywide, to be taken by the end of July.

In addition to slashing its workforce, the Register expects to achieve a 25% reduction in news pages in part by cutting the Orange County business section from seven to five days a week and folding a stand-alone fashion section into a different part of the paper.

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 have a Long Beach section.


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