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OC Register parent to expand into Palm Springs (updated)

Orange County Register Publisher Aaron Kushner (left) and company President Eric Spitz.
Orange County Register Publisher Aaron Kushner (left) and company President Eric Spitz.
Grant Slater/KPCC

The parent company of the Orange County Register is betting that bigger is better.

Freedom Communications said Wednesday it's expanding the distribution of its newspapers into five desert communities, including Palm Springs, with a new weekly publication called the "Desert Enterprise."

The "Desert Enterprise" will be distributed in 200 news racks and locations in Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, La Quinta and Indian Wells on Fridays starting on Feb. 21. The first edition will have 24 pages.

"Desert Enterprise will be a community-building newspaper that covers the developments, activities, people and businesses within the desert communities with depth and verve," said Aaron Kushner, Freedom's CEO in a press release.

The expansion into the desert communities follows Freedom's aggressive strategy to increase its presence in Southern California. Kushner's investment group, 2100 Trust, purchased Freedom in 2012. 

After purchasing Freedom, Kushner's team poured money into the Orange County Register, increasing the amount of pages and staff to the paper. Then, the Register expanded into Long Beach, with a 16-page Long Beach section. Last year, Freedom purchased the Press-Enterprise in Riverside for $27.25 million. In December, Freedom said it will launch a new daily newspaper in Los Angeles.

RELATED: Press-Enterprise to be sold to Orange County Register's parent company

But is it expanding too fast? That's the concern of Gabriel Kahn, a professor at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. He said it's expensive to launch papers in new communities and he's wondering how much cash Kushner has left.

"It reminds you of baker trying to roll out a pie crust and push it farther and farther eventually you run out of dough," Kahn said.

Last year, the sale of the Press-Enterprise was delayed, raising questions on whether the deal would actually close. There were also a round of layoffs and buyouts at the Orange County Register, with roughly three dozen employees departing, including the paper's executive editor. Kushner said in a staff memo at the time that the restructuring "reflects our assessment of what our content team looks like to tackle the next phase of our growth in Orange County and L.A. County." 

RELATED: OC Register says more than 30 employees and its editor are leaving the paper

The new "Desert Enterprise" is part of a larger effort to add to the Press-Enterprise's product. Freedom said it has expanded its entertainment content, added more color to the Press-Enterprise's pages and has a new section called "Inland SoCal Register" that covers "top news from a local perspective on regional, state, national and international news." 

In April, the Press-Enterprise will also be sold in the same five desert communities as the "Desert Enterprise."

This isn't the Press-Enterprise's first foray into the desert communities. The Press-Enterprise, now owned by Freedom Communications, reported it had a regional edition and bureau there, but ceased both operations in 1991 and again in 2008. The Press-Enterprise reported that the "Desert Enterprise" will have an initial run of 10,000 copies on Fridays.

When asked what makes this entry different from the Press-Enterprise's past tries, Kushner said the Desert Enterprise is a "different and exciting approach to newspapering." 

"We believe very strongly in a newspaper's ability to connect a community in ways that enrich their lives, whether it's an important news development, inspiring person, interesting place or activity that you otherwise would not have known about," Kushner told KPCC. "Desert Enterprise will be filled with these kinds of stories."

The "Desert Enterprise" could compete with The Desert Sun, which is run by media giant Gannett. 

Mark Winkler, The Desert Sun's president and publisher said in a statement that his paper "takes its role as a primary source for local, revelatory, watchdog journalism seriously." 

"We're advocates for vigorous and responsible journalism," Winkler said in a statement. "Great storytelling and investigative reporting serve the greater good of the community." 

KPCC left a message for Winkler on whether he sees the Desert Enterprise as competition and we're waiting to hear back.

Kahn said cities like Palm Springs isn't a "bad place to try to expand." He said the city has a lot of retail businesses that would probably advertise in a local editorial product.

This story has been updated to add responses from Freedom Communications and The Desert Sun.