[UPDATE: Now Hiring a Movie Critic?] Orange County Register Reporter on New Owner's Print-First Strategy to Reshape Paper: "Lunacy"

Thumbnail image for Aaron Kushner OCR boss new.jpg
Kushner: Can you send us a better publicity shot than this one?
Updated, with new info on the bottom...

After the sale of the Orange County Register to Boston businessman Aaron Kushner became complete late last month, he sat down with longtime Reg business reporter Mary Ann Milbourn to talk shop.

"Ultimately I believe that there are very few businesses that play the role and have the impact in the community that newspapers do," Kushner said. "It came down to an opportunity to help a really important institution find a way to grow."

He wasn't too specific then on how he was going to make the Reg grow, other than saying he wanted to make the dead-tree edition while erecting a pay wall online. But this week, Kushner (who has no previous journalism experience) and his lieutenants spent lots of time on Grand Street unveiling their vision--and they're freaking out a lot of longtimers and newbies, one of which describe this past week as "just absolutely crazy."

Already confirmed: a permanent Los Angeles Dodgers reporter, which would be a great addition. There's also rumors of hiring a full-time food critic, something the Register hasn't had since Elizabeth Evans earlier last decade, and other new positions. Those are the good developments. Oh, and four Morning Reads per day in the paper.

The ones freaking people out: sources tell the Weekly that almost all of the Register's 30+ (!) blogs save the sports ones will be eliminated. Some editors are going to become reporters. "No more focus on mobile," one source said, citing anonymity. And a switching of some reporters' beats to others (we've been told a big name, but won't release it until it gets announced, if the reporter's hysterics don't convince Kushner & Co. otherwise to leave them where they currently are).

And the paywall. Kushner actually thinks that people will pay for the Register both as a print product and online, despite the continued crashing of print. "That strategy, more than anything--to focus on print--are what people are freaking out about," said a source. "In this day and age, that's lunacy."

More--much more--to come as it's unveiled...

UPDATE, AUGUST 17, 11:39 A.M.: In a way, I feel bad for Kushner, as he's charged with the unenviable task of restoring what the Register fucked up long ago.

When sources told us that the Reg now wants to hire a full-time movie critic--that's a good thing--I couldn't help but to remember the last time OC's paper of record had a full-time in-house critic: in 2002, when they unceremoniously let go Henry Sheehan and replaced him with some yahoo from the Reg's former daily sister paper, the East Valley Tribune--I say "former," because the Tribune only publishes Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. At the time, the Reg was trumpeting Craig Outhier as a hot young talent while whispering that Sheehan was past his prime--but what ended up happening? The Register stopped running Outhier's reviews long ago, while Sheehan never stopped (you can still hear him every Friday on Filmweek on KPCC-FM 89.3).

So let's hope the film critic rumors are true--and let's hope Kushner is smart and rehires Sheehan instead of some young pendejo...

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