Orange County Register Sold to Boston Investor

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Freedom Communications of Irvine is selling the Orange County Register, six other dailies and other properties to a Boston investor, according to published reports.

He is Aaron Kushner of 2100 Trust LLC, which previously tried to purchase the Boston Globe. The deal involving Santa Ana's daily, which was Freedom's flagship newspaper, is expected to close in 30 days.

"We couldn't be more pleased with the opportunity to lead the hard-working and talented employees of Freedom Communications in serving these communities," Kushner says in a press release. "We believe that newspapers are essential to the fabric of our lives and are excited to own and grow these unique institutions."

The Register, whose roots date back to the Santa Ana Daily Register that began publishing in 1905, was an institution that had been written off for dead just a few years ago, before Freedom plunged into bankruptcy. Amid shrinking circulation and ad revenue, members of founder R.C. Hoiles' family that largely owned the company were split between those who wanted to carry on and those who wanted to cash out.

Freedom emerged from restructuring in April 2010 leaner, meaner and, according to the company, profitable for the first time in years. Hoiles family members had by then been replaced by bankers and investors, who would go on to dispose of the media company's television stations for $385 million. They were quite active this year in selling off newspapers around the country to regional buyers. Prices for those deals, like the latest involving the Register, have not been revealed.

There had been reports out of San Diego that Douglas Manchester, the Union-Tribune owner, was close to sealing a deal for the Register. Anti-tax, anti-government and anti-gay marriage, Manchester was poised to make the libertarian-leaning Reggie even more conservative politically. Perhaps Freedom just used Manchester to drive up the free-market bidding.

Kushner, who is under 40, grew up in Georgia but attended Stanford before making his mark with an online venture and a greeting-card company. He went on to form private investment companies with an eye toward getting into the print media game. He's in now, and all eyes will be on him to prove "investment returns" and "print media" are not mutually exclusive terms.

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