Register Open House with publisher Terry Horne (amended)

Anyone who reads the daily Register can acknowledge that they actively promoted today’s Open House breakfast meeting with publisher Terry Horne. We were told that this was the fourth and largest attendance event they have held with 205 registered. In fact, due to limited meeting space, they had to break us up into two groups.

Back on Nov 30th I posted an Orange Juice story based on Mr. Horne’s comments at an OC Forum event. While he did repeat some of that material this morning I will try to recap what he shared with our group. Before doing that let me take us back to a story by Mary Ann Milbourn that appeared in the Aug 23rd 2007 Register.

Headline.”New publisher’s focus is local.”

Terry Horne, who take over as publisher of the Orange County Register on Sept 15th thinks the best response to the newspaper’s drop in advertising and other challenges is a renewed emphasis on local news.
What we need is a total focus on hyperlocal news, a focus on producing information no one else can provide our readers,” He said Wednesday after being named the Register’s new publisher.” In that article he states that “my recent experience told me the newspaper needs to be creative in growing readership.”

And now back to today’s data from Mr. Horne where he informed us that in taking the reins his goal was to set strategy and set direction. “16 months ago we were about to fail.” He pointed out that the Tribune (parent of the LA Times) filed for Chapter 11 protection stating that dozens of other newspapers will follow.

Supervisor Norby’s Executive Assistant Bruce Whitaker once gave me some valuable advise. Simply stated.  Whenever writing a story bear in mind that “numbers numb.” As such it is a challenge to compare the past with the current status of the Register without sharing some of those statistics. I guess I might ask you the readers to function as a focus group and tell us how you feel the paper is performing since Terry took the helm 16 months ago (as we entered the current recession.)
Terry repeated the business mantra of the paper in that the Register must be “cheaper, better and faster” to survive or grow. He told us that there is a “very short period of time for our industry to change” adding that we must “become what the marketplace demands.”
Acknowledging that their “audience is changing” we were told that part of the challenge faced by any newspaper relates to the age of the readers where “those over age 45 are four times more likely to read the print edition” while the younger generation prefers getting their news On-line.
All in all its been a tough year for major newspapers. The Star Ledger (which I delivered in Newark, New Jersey back in 1950) lost $40 million last year. I believe it was the SF Chronicle that Terry quoted as having lost $50-60 million.
Their Internet statistics which Terry shared amazed me. In Nov they have had 36 million page views and 3,224,281 unique visitors.
He told us to look for a “huge redesign of the web site in the next few months.”
For the business community at the breakfast he informed us that they will not raise ad rates in 2009. Additional features will be “express ads” where you do your own design, saving everyone time and money. We were told that the only newspaper actively offering that feature today is the Boston Globe.
Another feature will be text messaging to promote the automotive and real estate industries where you can download an entire inventory.
To support those interested in reaching potential visitors and local residents we will be able to access information on a new entertainment site at
To create a “lean, mean culture” they have 341 fewer employees since last year.
Prior to leaving Mr. Horne did field a few questions including more in depth support for the local Latino community. Prior to today I did not know that their Excelsior edition is the 25th largest Spanish newspaper in the country. Another guest raised a question about providing news, not just ads. While they have “247 individuals involved in their news and commentary” departments he recognizes that they simply cannot cover every possible story. As such we were encouraged to contact them if we find stories that we feel have been overlooked.

LG commentary added 8 January

In this post I overlooked one of the key points raised by Mr. Horne that relates to helping the small business owners. I refer to their effort to level the playing field between major advertisers and the smaller business owner. The key is frequency of ads rather than simply dollars spent per year.

As I think about the “strategy and tactics” being presented I also think back to the recent massive advertising by the major retailers.  We are all aware of that proven fact that 40% of all retail sales occurs in Oct, Nov and Dec leading up to the Christmas holiday. First quarter sales are typically flat.

My sense is that the Register will experience a decline in revenue from stores such as JC Penney, Macy’s, Kohl’s and Best Buy whose pre-printed inserts filled our papers. While I have no idea as to the charges for inserting their flyers their traditional ads will surely drop off until their next season begins.  If “the price is right” than this concept can become a good partnership between those who have the products for sale and those who can help get the message out to the targeted consumer.

 After his presentation we were divided into small groups and toured the Santa Ana facility. In that tour we were limited to the area where inserts are added to the newspapers and the press room where we watched from above as they printed this coming Thursday’s four color Yorba Linda Star local edition.

As a side note I took a trip down memory lane and asked about one of my “old” customers. Mergenthaler linotype typesetting machines where we did stop to look at the antiquated method used to set type line by line.  Printing 24 community newspapers at the Register’s Grand Street facility, and cranking out 14 papers per second (or 255,000 daily) surely required the word of the year. Change.

Juice readers. Are  you satisfied with the Register?

If not what suggestions would you care to suggest?

While we at the local blogs represent the future in this industry we still need to have the weekly newspapers from which we get many of the stories covered on our sites.

About Larry Gilbert