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LA Register launch: Publisher Aaron Kushner banks on pro-business approach

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

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Regularly, KPCC business reporter Ben Bergman talks with someone changing the way we do business in Southern California. In this installment, Los Angeles Register publisher Aaron Kushner discusses the imminent launch of his newspaper.

For years, people have been writing the obituary of newspapers. But Kushner is determined to show that newspapers can be as relevant – and as profitable – as ever. In 2012, he bought the Orange County Register, where he embarked on an effort to expand the newsroom. There have been some bumps on the road – including layoffs and questions over journalism ethics – but Kushner continues to expand his reach beyond Orange County. Last year, he launched The Long Beach Register and bought the The Press-Enterprise of Riverside. Now he’s making his boldest bet yet; The Los Angeles Register will start rolling off the presses Wednesday.

Usually these days we see newspapers shrinking or closing altogether, so it’s unusual that tomorrow you’ll be putting out a new newspaper in Los Angeles. What opportunity do you see that so many others don’t?

We do a different kind of newspaper at The Register.

How is it different than the Los Angeles Times?

The L.A. Times is a wonderful national newspaper. We’re focused on local.  We also have a very different political perspective than the L.A. Times. We are very much pro-business, right of center. The L.A. Times sits on the other side.

Do you think that is something people will buy a newspaper for?

Some, yes. It’s an important service to the community to help a community understand and digest the complex issues of the day. The opinion pages are an important part of a newspaper, and we have a very different approach than the L.A. Times.

Do you think the L.A. Times is not local enough?

The L.A. Times is a very nice national newspaper. They compete well with The New York Times. Our focus is on local community building. 

How are you going to cover local politics and everything else that goes on at a local level better than the Times? After all, there are 88 different cities in L.A. County.

The short answer is with a lot of reporters working very hard. Will we cover everything? Of course not. When we start, we will begin with a five- to six-section newspaper every day, 50-60 pages daily, and Sunday well over 80 pages, eight-plus sections focused on the stuff we believe is the most important for the local community in Los Angeles.

How many of those pages will just be exclusive for the L.A. Register?

Everything that we do for the L.A. Register is for the L.A. Register. It is its own newspaper, just like what we do in the Inland Empire with the Press-Enterprise.

How many reporters will you have covering Los Angeles?

We have a newsroom of about 400 people that covers everything in Orange County and Los Angeles.

But how many will be in the L.A. bureau?

We’ll have offices in the San Fernando Valley, Downtown, Hermosa Beach and Long Beach. We’ll likely have an office in Pasadena as well.

How many reporters will just be covering L.A. as opposed to Orange County?

That’s not something we can measure on a day-to-day basis because it will be different on any given day.

Do you worry at all that expanding to L.A. risks spreading the Register too thin?

We do not. It’s very much part of our growth path in terms of bringing our kind of quality newspaper to a major market. There are two choices for a business: You’re either growing or declining. 

You’ve said before you’re interested in buying the L.A. Times. How does expanding into L.A. fit in with that?

Our view relative to the L.A. Times hasn’t changed. If a point in time arises that it is available for sale and the business case can be made for us to purchase it, we’d certainly remain interested.

You’ve had to make layoffs, you had to stop matching employees retirement contributions, you had trouble putting up the money for the Press-Enterprise sale, you’ve been sued by the Register’s former owner’s for not making a payment. … All these things suggest that your company is not in great financial shape.

To the contrary, we closed the Press-Enterprise transaction in six weeks, which anyone who has purchased large complex businesses knows is really quick. And we did close it. The proof is in the pudding. When you look at the facts of what we have accomplished and what we are accomplishing, we are a very dynamic and growing business and expect to continue to grow.

Are you profitable?

We’re very happy with where we are. We expect that we’ll have a very healthy and profitable year this year.

Were you profitable last year?

We’re a private company. We don’t talk about what our numbers are. We’re quite pleased where we finished the year. 

It’s been about a year and a half since we sat in the office not long after you bought the Register. This has been your first experience in the newspaper industry. What have you learned about the industry that you didn't know before?

I think ultimately what we have learned firsthand is how much newspapers matter. 

This interview has been condensed and edited.