Death came like a thief last night for the Los Angeles Register, via an 11:00 PM memo from DoNotReply@Freedom.com. Sent by the ever-optimistic Aaron Kushner and Eric Spitz, who own the Register's parent company, Freedom Communications, the email took six paragraphs to get to the bad news:
We have made the decision to cease publication of the Los Angeles Register, effective immediately.
And so today's print edition will be the Register's last. Reporters have been told to take the day off and report to Orange County on Wednesday morning. That's bad news for L.A. Register employees, who may have to relocate, but even worse news for O.C. Register employees, including many award-winning veterans who earn more than their generally younger L.A. colleagues, and might therefore be on the chopping block.
“The way it seems is most of the L.A. people all have a job in Orange County,” says one L.A. Register reporter.
And O.C. Register reporter Christopher Earley tweeted something along the same lines:
As we reported on Friday, rumors of the L.A. Register's demise had been in the ether all of last week. That doesn't make the news any more shocking – most businesses are given at least a year to eke out a share of the market. The Register was given just five months.
The Kushner/Spitz memo vaguely alludes to keeping the L.A. Register website going, but it appears that no one has been assigned to staff it full time. And at any rate, the site, still largely unknown to L.A.-area residents, wasn't getting much traffic — according to one source, its homepage was getting just a few hundred clicks a day.
In his postmortem, Kevin Roderick of LA Observed writes:
The Register did good stories, but its impact on the local news market was essentially nil. There just wasn't a critical mass of people looking to pay for or consume what it was offering: the same news and local feature stories as everybody else, a kooky lineup of columnists that included, for no apparent reason, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and a marketing campaign that promised the Register would be less liberal than the competition. I don't think I have seen the print paper more than twice since the first day. And I never heard anybody talk about something they read in the LA Register.
In their long and strangely sterile memo, Kushner and Spitz took preemptive offense at the notion that they had failed by expanding into Los Angeles, a sprawling metropolis with two long-established daily newspapers:
Pundits and local competitors who have closely followed our entry into Los Angeles will be quick to criticize our decision to launch a new newspaper and they will say that we failed. We believe, the true definition of failure is not taking bold steps toward growth. While we tried an important new initiative and determined it did not meet our criteria for success, it does not mean that our business as a whole has failed. Rather we have made and will continue to make the difficult but necessary evaluations of where we focus our team’s energy and resources that will generate the most growth and the most impact for our business and our community.
While no one can fault Kushner and Co. for trying something bold like hiring reporters to do journalism, their internal pressure on reporters to come up with upbeat stories the bosses believed readers would flock to, and their print-centric approach — both aims derided as naive — have indeed proven to be so.
Update, 11:30 AM: It appears that the layoffs have already started. The names include one L.A. Register staffer – the columnist Bill Johnson. All others appear to be from the other side of the orange curtain. The O.C. Weekly's Gustavo Arellano is keeping a list.