Aaron Kushner to OC Reg Staff: "Cannot" Guarantee Even More Layoffs Won't Come this Year

Stuart_Smalley.jpg
Stuart Kushner: "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone: people'll like me even after I lay them off!"
So Orange County Register owner Aaron Kushner tried to rally his troops yesterday during a townhall held at the Reg's third-floor newsroom. The occasion, of course, is an expected exodus of the newsroom--anywhere from 20 to 100 people--through a combination of severance packages and layoffs. Kushner, as usual, didn't offer a single specific stat to bolster his claims that these moves will lead to growth and that the Register is actually profitable, at one point even telling his newsroom that circulation figures for the Los Angeles Register are "private." DOUCHE CHILL...

The Weekly obtained a recording of the 45-minute question-and-answer session Kushner had with his team. The atmosphere was absolutely somber, with the only applause happening when a veteran thrashed Kushner, leading an audibly shaken Kushner to respond with a cracked and raised voice. We'll save that for later, and instead offer other highlights:

*Kushner on critics: "Everyone says our strategy has failed. Perhaps they should be saying that our strategy has not succeeded?"

*On whether circulation is growing for the Register: "That's a very nuanced question." He finally admitted--or claimed, really, since no one believes a single word that comes out of Kushner's mouth anymore--that Sunday circ is higher, but daily is lower.

*On the reason for the layoffs: They buy "our revenue teams even more time to find the ways that we [need] to grow at double digits. It maybe be that we never have a double digit year. That does not mean that we can't have a vibrant, growing profitable newspaper for a decade."

*On why not waiting to expand in Los Angeles, Long Beach, Riverside and beyond until there was sustainable growth: "It's a classic chicken and the egg," he replied. "You can't grow revenue by hoping for it, by wishing it. You have to actively invest in it, and that's what we plan to do."

*Eric Spitz, Freedom Communications president: The paper was "successful" on charging readers more for the paper, but "we have not seen the net new subscriber growth that we needed from that effort."

*Kushner: The Register's building is expected to sell, with a "long-term lease-back" in the future for the paper.

*On how long Kushner means when he says he expects "long-term" success for his company: "A...generation." Silence from the newsroom.

*On the severance package: Kusher said it was offered "so there was a choice" to reporters, and out "out of respect" to them. It'll cost them "a significant amount of money" but Kushner said that prospect was better than the "alternatives. We had two. One is to never had hired the people in the first place. Well, that sucks." Later, Kushner said "Im sorry for" the layoffs and buyouts, and that Spitz and him are "doing everything we can."

*On whether there'll be more layoffs this year: Kushner rephrased it as "changes in the structures of our team," then replied "I certainly hope not, but there's things I can guarantee and things I cannot."

Email: garellano@ocweekly.com. Twitter: @gustavoarellano.

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