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The OC Register limo seems to have hit a significant-sized bump in the road, killing dozens of jobs — including most or all of those at the managerial level. And no, we’re not happy about this, despite that it has been predictable — among other things, from the paper’s sliding web presence chronicled in our “Dearthwatch” feature: Reports are coming in.
(Oddly, I have a little expertise in the area: this looks like a purge of higher-salaried reporters and managers. For ethical reasons, I must exclude myself from among those whom those who didn’t take a buyout might want to consult about age discrimination — although I’m sure that their attorneys were very careful, and by “sure” I mean that anyone unsure should consult with an attorney.)
The person we asked for confirmation: Editor Ken Brusic, who has been with the paper in an editor’s role since 1989 and the big enchilada since 1997. Sources tell us Brusic is falling on his own sword rather than implement the cuts Kushner demanded.
Although we had many differences with Brusic over the years, he was always gracious to all … And one quote in particular now stands out, not just because it was prophetic, but also because it’s downright ominous for the rest of us in newspapers.
“Whatever happens, it will not be the people of the newsroom who will be part of [any] failure of that enterprise,” he responded when I asked Brusic if he thought Kushner’s hiring-up policy could succeed. “I worry about everything. . . . If we can’t succeed, it can’t succeed anywhere else.”
The Weekly also identifies the carnage as including: investigative reporter Ron Campbell, longtime City Editor Ron Gonzales (NOTE TO NORBERTO SANTANA! Voice of OC SHOULD HIRE HIM TODAY! NOW, NOW, NOW!), court beat expert Larry Welbourn, Cathleen Falsani Possley, Marla Jo Fisher, Dennis Foley, and a trio from the sports desk, Carlos Arias, Jason Eichelberger, and David Bean. Check out the story to see, among other things, how nice several of them were or weren’t to Gustavo. (Let that be a lesson to us who are not nice to Gustavo: it will be part of the story when you are laid off.)
From LA Observed‘s Kevin Roderick:
Reports have been coming since last night about expected management changes and layoffs today in the Orange County newsroom. Sources are saying that editor Ken Brusic is being replaced by Rob Curley, with associated shifts down the line. Curley came to the Register in 2012 with a reputation for doing big things in New Media and community coverage.
I wouldn’t classify this as the end of the Kushner experiment at the Register, but rather as an intermediate step to arm for the future. But that’s a first impression. More to come.
* Another email tipster: “Ken Brusic and his entire inner circle out at OC Register, he’s being replaced by Rob Curley. Buncha layoffs, too, even as the paper prepares to expand into Los Angeles.”
* Travel editor Gary Warner writes on Facebook: “Gone! Register laid me off today. A head-scratcher coming off one of our best years financially and with lots of awards. … Sad, perplexed, proud and relieved all at once.”
* “It’s a blood bath at OCR. Nearly every top manager replaced.”
* “Estimates of about three dozen editorial staffers canned.”
* “The budget for freelance high school [sports] coverage has been frozen, which surprised me since one of [publisher Aaron] Kushner’s big selling points is being local and doing things other news groups can’t or won’t.”
* “I have a friend who works at the [OC Register sister paper] Riverside Press-Enterprise. He says he’s been told that copy desk functions for Riverside are moving to OC in 60 days, and editors will have to apply for a job in OC.”
The cuts, particularly at the Register, mark a worrisome about-face for a company that has been aggressively expanding in the last year and has hired over 100 journalists in the process. Freedom was acquired by Kushner, best known as a former greeting card company executive, in mid-2012 for $50 million plus assumption of pension and other liabilities. In November, Freedom bought the Press-Enterprise from A.H. Belo Corp. for $27.5 million.
Since taking over, Kushner has launched a new daily paper, the Long Beach Register, and late last year announced plans to debut a newspaper covering Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Register. At the same time, he has dramatically increased focus on print products and ratcheted back the digital presence of his papers.
More to come, surely, on the Register getting leaner and meaner.