OC investors George Argyros and Larry Higby are in preliminary discussions about buying the Register, according to the OC Business Journal. Also, reports the OCBJ, the Register is in talks with the LAT about combining some non-editorial operations in order to save money. There's no telling where any of this is going, but Scott Flanders, CEO of Register parent Freedom Communications says, "We are having a lot of conversations that in the past in a different environment would have been inconceivable.”
Argyros and Higby have expressed a desire to keep the Register independent and locally owned, according to the Business Journal. But keep in mind that other rich guys in other communities have expressed a similar interest in buying their local papers - until they get a look at the books and realize that the newspaper business is on life support. Another problem: Freedom has a complicated ownership structure, with 45 percent of the company owned by private equity firms Blackstone Group and Providence Equity Partners (heirs of founder R.C. Hoiles own the rest). Those firms could conceivably sell back their shares next May, but given the terrible performance of the Register - and Freedom in general - it's anyone's guess whether they'll be willing to pull out.
While Argyros is a frequent critic of mainstream media, a newspaper would fit in with his eclectic taste in investments, which through the years has included the Seattle Mariners baseball team, airline AirCal and doghouse maker Dogloo. A longtime friend of Argyros, Higby was recruited by Argyros to Lake Forest-based Apria, a provider of healthcare to patients in their homes. Argyros was an investor and driving force behind the creation of Apria in the 1990s. Higby recently negotiated the sale of Apria to Blackstone (the same company that’s invested in the Register) for $1.6 billion. The deal is expected to close by year’s end. Higby brings newspaper knowledge. He was at the Los Angeles Times from the late 1980s to 1994, with stints as executive vice president of marketing and as president of the OC edition.
Meanwhile, the Register and Los Angeles Times are said to be exploring the combination of some operations. The potential move would have some similarity to a joint operating agreement—an anti-trust exemption device little used in the past decade but permitted by Congress under the 1970 Newspaper Preservation Act. But any move may not be as formal as a traditional joint operating agreement, sources said. Under the plan, according to sources, the ownership and editorial operations of the Times and Register would remain separate. Printing, distribution and mailing would be combined. Whether advertising would be combined is in question, according to sources.