January 2, 2013 in Business

Newspaper bulks up staff in bet on print

New owner’s strategy bucks industry trend
Elliot Spagat Associated Press
 

SANTA ANA, Calif. – New and expanded sections to cover business, automobiles and food. A nearly fivefold increase in community news pages and more investigative reporting.

It feels like a throwback to an earlier era at the Orange County Register, where a first-time newspaper owner is defying conventional wisdom by spending heavily to expand the printed edition and playing down digital formats.

Aaron Kushner, 39, added about 75 journalists and, with 25 more coming, will have expanded the newsroom by half since his investment group bought the nation’s 20th-largest newspaper by circulation in July.

As more newspapers begin charging for online access, Kushner’s spending spree is drawing close attention.

“If he’s successful, it’s going to show the way for other papers to follow,” said Walter E. Hussman Jr., publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and an early advocate of charging readers for online access.

Seated behind his large, clutter-free desk, the former Stanford University gymnast said his lack of industry experience may be a plus because he hasn’t been through the tough times in newspapering.

“So when we sit down and look at what’s possible, our view of the world is different,” Kushner said. “We’re a little crazy in that we really do believe that we can grow this particular newspaper.”

It’s too early to know whether he’s right. Kushner said advertising revenues have grown, though he won’t say how much.

To focus more on the print edition, the Register slashed the number of blogs from around 40 to less than a dozen. It scrapped an iPad application for news, traffic and weather.

The new owners have introduced a daily page for coverage of a major development, began sending a reporter and photographer to every one of the region’s 50 high school football games on Fridays, and doubled editorial pages.

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