Register formally changes hands and editor is out


Digital First Media took control on Thursday of Freedom Communications, and the very first shoe to fall was the departure of Orange County Register editor Rob Curley and other executives. More than 70 people are expected to be laid off across several departments, the LA Times says; it's unknown how many, if any, would come from the newsroom. The sales price slipped to $49.8 million, about $2 million less than originally, due to “certain newly discovered facts,” according to court documents. So the Register and the Press-Enterprise in Riverside are now part of the Southern California News Group, which includes the Daily News, Daily Breeze and seven other daily newspapers and more than a dozen community weeklies.

Here's the takeover announcement from Digital First Media, and below that a note to employees at the Register. There's a 9 a.m. all-staff meeting today in Santa Ana followed by a noon gathering in Riverside.

Digital First Media Closes Deal to Buy The Orange County Register and The Press-Enterprise

Southern California News Group reignites newspaper competition with talented teams in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties

LOS ANGELES, CALIF. – March 31, 2016 - Digital First Media today closed on the purchase of The Orange County Register in Santa Ana, Calif. and The Press-Enterprise in Riverside, Calif. from Freedom Communications.

The deal had been approved earlier this month by a United States Bankruptcy Judge and comes just days before Freedom was expected to run out of money to keep its newspapers afloat.

“We are extremely excited to usher in a new era of stability, profitability and quality for these renowned papers,” said Sharon Ryan, Executive Vice President of DFM’s Western Region. “The Orange County Register and The Press-Enterprise have been longtime leaders in their regions, and as part of the DFM team, they will continue to outshine the competition.”

DFM announced that with the acquisition, its Southern California News Group (SCNG) will be the largest news provider in the combined counties of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino.

SCNG leaders said they have long respected The Orange County Register and The Press-Enterprise, and vowed to adhere to their legacies of high-quality local reporting.

“We have long admired our new colleagues’ work and are looking forward to working alongside them as part of our expanded team,” said Ron Hasse, SCNG president and a 25-year veteran of Southern California newspapers. “Our talent, scale and deeply invested news teams will be a benefit for readers who will receive more of the news they need to stay informed about issues in their own back yards.”

Hasse said that by keeping the papers locally focused, SCNG would ensure stronger local coverage and healthy competition.

SCNG now owns 11 Southern California daily newspapers and more than a dozen community weeklies, ranking among the top five nationally in Sunday circulation and among the top six daily. SCNG will reach more than 6.3 million unique visitors on digital platforms each month, drawing 22 million page views.

In terms of geography, the new Southern California News Group includes 261 communities throughout Southern California– a scope that will provide SCNG’s advertisers with a broader platform to deliver their messages, Hasse said.

“Ultimately, readers and advertisers benefit most when there is competition,” Hasse said. “We look forward to providing a world-class product that continues to win the hearts and minds of readers and advertisers in Orange County and the Inland Empire.”

With the acquisitions, SCNG’s newspapers have won a combined five Pulitzer Prizes and are undisputed leaders in local news. In April, the Daily Breeze in Torrance won a Pulitzer for local news for exposing corruption at the Centinela Valley Union High School District.

“Our new colleagues are a lot like us, in that they are in this business to uphold the values of local journalism,” Hasse said. “We are looking forward to doing exactly that, side by side.”

And to employees:

Digital First Media welcome note to Freedom employees

March 31, 2016 - Dear Colleagues: We want to be the first to welcome you to Digital First Media, the third largest newspaper group in the United States. Digital First manages a diverse portfolio of multi-platform news and information products that spans 15 states and includes 67 daily newspapers and approximately 190 non-daily publications serving over 45 million Americans each month.

DFM maintains some of the most trusted brands in the United States built on providing high- quality local journalism to its readers and effective print and digital solutions for its advertisers. We are proud to add the Orange County Register and Riverside Press-Enterprise to our family of leading local news providers.

DFM’s dynamic Southern California News Group is now the largest news content provider in the combined counties of Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino and will remain focused on providing the highest-quality local news coverage, digitally and in print. We have long admired the Register and Press-Enterprise for innovation and quality reporting, editing, design and photography and the ability to deliver targeted, solution-oriented messaging for advertisers.

The Register and Press-Enterprise mastheads, unique voices, and commitment to providing outstanding local news will remain unchanged. You have helped shape the identities of Orange and Riverside Counties to the world, while staying grounded in the kind of deeply local reporting that ensures an informed electorate and an engaged community. And we are committed to using our forward-thinking business practices to bring vitality and stability to Orange and Riverside Counties’ most important sources of information and news.

We believe you will be inspired by and serve as inspiration to the rest of your colleagues within the Southern California News Group. Together, we are a collection of some of the finest journalists and media professionals in the country. We are honored to uphold the values of local journalism and look forward to working with you.

Other than those employees who have already been contacted, all active Freedom employees (those who have worked at Freedom at least one day since March 1, 2016 through today) will be offered employment at Digital First Media effective April 1, 2016. Human Resources will be sending additional information later today detailing the next steps in the process of finalizing your employment with Digital First Media.

We will be on site Friday morning to meet with you. We will plan to meet with the Register staff at 9:00 a.m. in Santa Ana and with the Press-Enterprise staff in Riverside at 12:00 p.m. More details will follow.

We hope you are as excited as we are about the possibilities that the future holds.

Steve Rossi Chief Executive Officer Digital First Media

Sharon Ryan Executive Vice President DFM Western Region

Ron Hasse President/Publisher Southern California News Group

Says OC Weekly editor Gustavo Arellano: "Have you ever seen your friend get their ass kicked, then had the attacker try to sidle up to you and buy you a drink before he kicks your ass? That's exactly what's going to happen this morning, when top executives with Digital First Media, the new owners of the Orange County Register, have scheduled an all-hands town hall at 9 a.m., a day after Digital First laid off more than 90 employees."

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