When Aaron Kushner was named publisher of The Orange County Register in Santa Ana, Calif., this past summer, he introduced a “subscriber-first” strategy, which he said is devoted to finding ways to “deliver more value to (his) subscribers.”
In July 2012, 2100 Trust, Kushner’s investment group, acquired Freedom Communications, Inc., the Register’s parent company. 2100 Trust president Eric Spitz also serves as co-owner and president of Freedom.
While many publishers struggle through financial difficulty by reducing their workforce or print schedules, Kushner has done the opposite. Since taking the reins at the Register, he has hired several new journalists, including investigative reporters, columnists, and a restaurant critic.
In addition, the Register introduced a new page called Focus as a daily supplement to its news section. According to the Register, Focus provides a comprehensive view of state, national, and international news and provides original reporting, graphics, timelines, charts, photos, and data, while also highlighting the distinct connections to Orange County. The Register also added a new standalone business section with daily themes and in-depth reporting about the Orange County business community.
Kushner said the additions were all made with subscribers in mind. “All of our subscribers are passionate, and they want to be engaged,” he said. “So we are giving them more.”
The strategy of “more” carries over to the Register’s 25 community newspapers. In late November, the papers relaunched with three times more content, a new broadsheet size, and redesigned elements.
Between Thanksgiving and the first week of December 2012, the Register also rolled out a new program Kushner called his biggest investment yet. More than 124,000 seven-day subscribers received $100 gift checks designated to support local nonprofit charities. Once used, the checks are mailed back to the Register and redeemed by the charity to use toward advertising in Register products. Kushner said the goal is to help nonprofits grow and allow subscribers to tangibly support their community by “creating a virtuous cycle.”
“It’s why I bought these newspapers in the first place,” Kushner said. “Newspapers really matter. They’re the fabric of a community.”
Kushner said his vision hasn’t changed since he became publisher. “We believe this is a great community, and at the Register, we’re committed to delivering on that potential.”
As for the debate between print and digital, Kushner said, “There has certainly been no shortage of people that care about newspapers. There may be other strategies that work, but our focus is not on the medium; it’s on the subscribers.”