OC Register owner buys Riverside, Calif., paper

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The publisher of the Orange County Register is expanding its bet on the profitability of printed newspapers with the $27 million purchase of The Press-Enterprise of Riverside.

The deal was announced Thursday by the Register’s privately held parent company, Freedom Communications Inc., and Dallas-based A.H. Belo Corp., which has owned The Press-Enterprise for 16 years.

Freedom Communications will acquire the newspaper, production facility and land about 50 miles east of Los Angeles. The deal is expected to close in mid-October.

In the six months that ended March 31, The Press-Enterprise had an average circulation of 138,000 on weekdays and 161,000 on Sundays, according to the Alliance for Audited Media.

The acquisition is the latest for Freedom Communications CEO Aaron Kushner, who bought the Register a year ago and has since increased its staff size and page counts. His company publishes four daily newspapers, including the Long Beach Register, which was launched in August to compete with the Long Beach Press-Telegram, founded more than a century ago.

Kushner’s approach to newspapering has attracted some skepticism among those who cite the long-term decline of print circulation and the increasing delivery of news online.

In an interview Thursday, Kushner said he doesn’t “wake up in the morning thinking about what other people are doing” but rather about how he can “help the community grow.” He wouldn’t specify how The Press-Enterprise might change other than that the paper would be “giving more value to subscribers.”

“That does typically mean that you need more journalists and more pages,” he said.

Nels Jensen, the paper’s editor and vice president of news and content, cited Kushner’s emphasis on community as an encouraging sign.

“There’s always an anxious time when you’re sold, that’s understandable,” Jensen said of his staff’s reaction to the news. “There’s uncertainty about what happens next, but there’s guarded optimism that there’ll be investments in local sales and local news.”

With an arc of publications that now stretches from the coast well into Southern California’s interior, might Kushner pursue the largest newspaper in the region, the Los Angeles Times? He has expressed interest, and the paper’s owners, the Tribune Co. of Chicago, have announced plans to sell properties in its chain.

On Thursday, Kushner said he “couldn’t comment on that one today.”

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