OC Register and other Digital First Media newspapers face ‘significant’ layoffs

The newsroom of the Orange County Register at its former Santa Ana office in 2012.
The newsroom of the Orange County Register at its former Santa Ana office in 2012.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

Southern California News Group, which includes newspapers such as the Orange County Register and the Los Angeles Daily News, will be hit with “significant” layoffs in the coming months, the group’s management announced Friday in newsroom meetings that took place across five publications.

Meetings were also held at the Daily Breeze in Torrance, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune in Monrovia and the Press-Enterprise in Riverside.

For the record:

12:00 p.m. Jan. 16, 2018An earlier version of this story said the Mercury News has a staff of 39. That number includes staff members represented by the union, but not additional non-union staff.

Up north, the Bay Area News Group, which is owned by the same parent company, Digital First Media, and includes publications such as the Mercury News and East Bay Times, also informed staff on Friday that buyouts and “involuntary terminations” were on the way.


A spokesman for SCNG confirmed the layoffs in a statement sent to The Times on Monday. Bay Area News Group executive editor Neil Chase confirmed with The Times that the group is making cuts as revenue continues to decline.

“It’s not limited to certain topics [or] sections, and we didn’t lay out specific numbers,” Chase said.

SCNG went through buyouts last summer, which eliminated 65 newsroom positions. The forthcoming layoffs across all 11 SCNG papers are expected to be greater than 65, according to Todd Harmonson, senior editor at the Register who spent about 45 minutes on Friday afternoon answering questions from staff. A recording of the meeting was shared with The Times.

SCNG has 315 newsroom employees.

The layoffs affecting SCNG will begin in late January with the sports, features and photo sections, said executive editor Frank Pine, who spoke via speakerphone at the SCNG meeting. Layoffs will hit the news section in February, followed by the design section in March.

“I don’t expect we’ll have a single area that will go unscathed,” Harmonson said during a question-and-answer session with the staff.

In a statement sent to The Times, Pine said continued financial pressures forced the company to make reductions in its newsrooms. “The demand for reliable local news has never been stronger. Unfortunately, continued financial pressures require us to make reductions in our newsrooms, and we will have some very talented people leaving us in the weeks to come.”


Pine declined to comment further on the number of reductions because plans are not yet finalized.

A SCNG staffer who was present during the meeting and asked not to be named because of fear of retribution said some editors had told their reporters that Digital First Media wanted to cut as much as a third of the newsroom.

A similar meeting was held Friday at the Mercury News, where employees were told that those who had worked at the paper for more than 25 years were eligible for buyouts. A person who attended the meeting said the company did not specify a target number for the buyouts. Employees were told that the news group would probably have to do involuntary terminations after that.

At its peak size in the 1990s, the Mercury News had a newsroom staff of 440, according to the Pacific Media Workers Guild, which represents staff at the Mercury News, East Bay Times, San Francisco Chronicle and other Northern California newspapers. The Mercury’s newsroom currently has a staff of 39 represented by the Guild, with some additional non-union staff.

Faced with drops in advertising revenue and circulation, a number of U.S. newspapers have been forced to cut editorial positions, consolidate publications and close bureaus. Some have gone from offering daily print editions to publishing only a few times a week.

Southern California publishers in particular have in recent years experienced turmoil. Alternative paper LA Weekly was sold late year to a group that immediately slashed staff. Freedom Communications, which previously owned the Register and the Riverside Press-Enterprise, filed for bankruptcy in 2015, and in 2016 the two newspapers were sold to Digital First Media, itself owned by hedge fund Alden Global Capital.


The parent company of the Los Angeles Times, Tribune Co., emerged from bankruptcy in 2012. Its publishing business, which includes The Times, was spun off in 2014 and renamed tronc in 2016. The Times newsroom began voting Jan. 4 on whether to form a union. Results of the election are expected Jan. 19.

Once largely owned by families, newspapers have over the years increasingly been snapped up by private equity investors and hedge funds and stripped down to cut costs.

“We’re run by a hedge fund; their business is making money,” said Lisa Krieger, a reporter for the Mercury News who is also on the contract bargaining committee for the Pacific Media Workers Guild. “They have a short-term investment perspective. Our mission, as reporters and editors, is long-term — providing the same high-quality coverage that our readers have depended on since 1851, and which is essential to a well-functioning and informed democracy.

“Yes, our revenue is down substantially, as is newspaper revenue nationally. But our editors are leading efforts to reinvent ourselves, to push hard into new ways of doing business to create an essential product,” Krieger said. “This requires an investment in staff, not cuts.”

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