Updated below: The Los Angeles Register newspaper experiment ends with the edition published Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014. Headline has been changed to reflect the latest details.
Rumors have been furiously flying (if anyone has a better verb/adverb combo for "rumors" please email this reporter immediately) about the impending closure of Los Angeles' newest newspaper, the L.A. Register, which joined our fraternity of of local print publications in April. We now understand that its reporters, most of whom relocated to L.A. from Orange County, have been desperately trying to set up job interviews this week and many were expecting L.A. Register to go belly up by today's end.
And now this, from Aaron Kushner, CEO of Freedom Communications: He told the publisher of Portada (a news site, not some delicious drink sold at taco trucks) at its 8th Annual Hispanic Advertising and Media Conference that he will "evaluate 'in the next few weeks' whether the Los Angeles Register has a viable future as a daily."
Oh, and have a nice weekend everyone!
Kushner, the former greeting card magnate, came on to the journalism scene bullishly when he bought the Orange County Register, hiring journalists by the barrel full under the belief that the public would pay brisk money for print news (the O.C. Weekly called him the "Pied Piper of Print").
With his expansion to Los Angeles, Kushner was doubling down.
But even before the bold experiment went pear-shaped, there were warning signs that Kushner was building a house of cards. When the Los Angeles office opened in a posh-looking historic building near Staples Center, there were no landlines – reporters were told to use their personal cell phones, for which they would be reimbursed $50 a month.
Three landlines were eventually put in: one for the editor-in-chief, one for the conference room, and one for the business reporter.
Then in June, a body blow: all reporters in every Freedom paper were ordered to take two unpaid furlough weeks during the upcoming two months, effectively a 25 percent pay cut for the period. Many were offered, and took, buyouts.
"Everyone says our strategy has failed," said Kushner, according to the O.C. Weekly. "Perhaps they should be saying that our strategy has not succeeded?"
After the unpaid furlough memo went out to all staff, one smart aleck hit "reply all" and wrote, "Do the furloughs mean we don’t get pizza on election night?"
Nevertheless, the furlough days sank morale.
“I think we were all excited about the idea of the L.A. Register," says one reporter who still has a job. "But I think that the execution wasn’t always there and we kind of got hamstrung by the furloughs killing what momentum we had. And it sort of seems like we never got a chance to build that momentum back up.”
Now, reporters seem convinced that the paper will close any day now. Editors and Freedom Communications spokesmen could not be reached for comment.
The Register rumors come at perhaps the most tumultuous time in L.A. journalism in recent memory.
Digital First Media is widely believed to be looking to sell the Los Angeles News Group, comprised of the Los Angeles Daily News, Torrance Daily Breeze, Long Beach Press-Telegram, Pasadena Star-News, San Bernardino Sun, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, San Gabriel Valley Tribune and Whittier Daily News.
The Los Angeles Times, meanwhile, just got itself a new publisher, Austin Beutner. And its parent company, Tribune Publishing, is most likely for sale, just as soon as its investment banker owners can clear a couple of tax hurdles.
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And so the fate of journalism in America's second-largest city is completely up in the air.
Like we said, have a nice weekend!
Updated on Sept. 23 at 8:58 a.m.:
Today's edition of the L.A. Register announces (below the fold!) it will be the newspaper's last one. "You tell us regularly how much you enjoy our approach to newspapering," the paper announced. "Unfortunately, not enough readers took us up on our offering, and we have decided that today's print edition will be the final one."
One veteran reporter working at the Orange County Register says, "It's hard to call this an experiment since so much of what they did seemed like an obvious bad idea. A shame they didn't pursue the good ideas, but money and power don't make you smart."