Orange County Register owner Freedom Communications orders worker furloughs, other changes

SANTA ANA, Calif. – Freedom Communications Inc., which owns the Orange County Register, announced Tuesday it is imposing furloughs, cutting staff and ending daily publication of the Long Beach newspaper it started last year.

The Long Reach Register, which had published six days a week, will be a stand-alone publication on Sundays only with delivery going to 61,000 households. The rest of the week Long Beach coverage will be featured as a section within the Los Angeles Register, which debuted less than two months ago.

Freedom, which earlier this year cut about 70 newsroom positions at the Orange County Register and the recently purchased Press-Enterprise of Riverside, said it is seeking voluntary buyouts from employees and ordering that all staff take two weeks of unpaid leave before the end of July.

The details of the buyout package and the deadline for accepting it were not disclosed. Company spokesman Eric Morgan said layoffs are possible if not enough people volunteer.

“To continue to invest and grow over the long term, we have to align our cost structure with what we now know we can achieve in revenue growth,” Freedom CEO Aaron Kushner and President Eric Spitz said in a memo sent to employees.

Kushner purchased Freedom two years ago and bucked the industry’s trend toward digitalization by betting heavily on printed publications. He limited free access to the Orange County Register’s website and added pages to the print publication, nearly doubled the editorial staff to about 370, and purchased and launched smaller newspapers in the area to spread the company’s ad-sales reach and dilute the cost of reporting over a wider geographic area.

The Los Angeles and Long Beach Registers were part of Freedom’s aggressive efforts to enter the huge newspaper market of neighbouring Los Angeles County, currently dominated by the Los Angeles Times and a number of daily local papers owned by the Los Angeles News Group.

In the memo, Kushner and Spitz thanked employees for their “commitment to pour everything we have into proving that newspapers have a vibrant and healthy future.”

“We are resilient and committed to winning,” they wrote.

As a private company, Freedom doesn’t disclose its revenue but Morgan said it has grown in three “core” areas of circulation/subscription revenue, print advertising and commercial print revenue.