Register parent buys Press-Enterprise

PE.jpgHere's the first big indication that Freedom Communications and its CEO, Aaron Kushner, have designs on the Southern California market that go beyond the flagship OC Register. A.H. Belo, which has owned the Riverside daily since 1997, is unloading it for $27.25 million. This undoubtedly will raise speculation about Kushner's long-held interest in the LAT, but selling the Times may be on hold for a while because the paper's parent company, Tribune Co., plans to spin off all its print operations into a separate company - a process that won't be completed until next year. Since buying the Register in 2012, Kushner has gone against conventional wisdom by investing heavily in the newsroom and focusing on the print product. In addition, a pay wall has been put up for much of the paper's digital content. Second-quarter results did not meet projections, but Kushner said in July that his plan might take a while to succeed. "The early indication on the advertising and subscription side is that, ultimately, we will achieve our expectations," he said in the interview. "I'm not sure it will totally be proven for a decade. This is a long-term investment." From a memo released this morning by Belo CEO Jim Maroney:

"As you are aware, there has been much talk and speculation about consolidation of newspapers in the Southern California region for some time," Moroney wrote in the memo. "The opportunity to partner The Press-Enterprise with [Freedom's] Orange County Register ... will allow the paper to take advantage of market synergies so that it can continue to provide The Press-Enterprise's readers with the high-quality local and regional journalism that they have come to expect."

Kushner launched a 5-day-a-week daily in Long Beach during the summer, but the Press-Enterprise deal advances Freedom's coverage area into the Inland Empire, where it will compete with the Daily Bulletin, which is owned by MediaNews Group's Los Angeles Newspaper Group. Here are early stories from the OC Register and Dallas Morning News, which is owned by Belo.

Here's some backstory from the P-E story:

The Press-Enterprise is the descendant of a series of newspapers that began publication in 1878. In 1928, Howard H Hays bought stock in what was then the Daily Press, beginning a long involvement with the Hays family, including son Howard H "Tim" Hays who served as editor, co-publisher and publisher, until 1997 when A.H. Belo Corp. finalized the purchase of the newspaper from the family. It had bought in 1996 the 20 percent of The Press-Enterprise that was owned by Dow Jones & Co. In July, sale was completed on the five-story building housing The Press-Enterprise on 14th Street south of downtown Riverside to Riverside County for approximately $30 million. The building, named the Howard H "Tim" Hays Media Center, was opened in 2007.

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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
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