For the second time in six years, the parent of of the Orange County Register newspaper has filed for bankruptcy. The paper announced that it filed today (Sunday, November 1).
Rich Mirman, the Register's chief executive officer and publisher, and a veteran casino executive, says that if he gets permission of the bankruptcy court, he will take over the paper, along with local investors.
This is the ignominious end of an attempt to fatten up — instead of trim down — the paper. It was attempted by Aaron Kushner in 2012. He shocked the ailing newspaper industry by hiring reporters, adding sections, buying the Riverside Press-Enterprise, and launching the Los Angeles Register. That publication lasted five months. Soon, the Orange County Register reversed course and made moves that other papers are making: layoffs, buyouts, and staff furloughs. Kushner is now out of the company. After he and another investor bought it in 2012, they sold a handful of smaller newspapers in the stable to concentrate on the Register.
Mirman concedes that the bankruptcy court (for the Central District of California) could select a higher bidder. Rumors have made the circuit for some time that Tribune Publishing, owner of the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, and San Diego Union-Tribune, along with other dailies, would be interested in the Orange County paper. It would be a natural strategic fit. However, Tribune Publishing has its own problems. The Los Angeles unit, which includes the Times and U-T, is publicly feuding with the Chicago headquarters — something that is rare in business.
Also, investors are not enamored of Tribune Publishing's management and the future of the newspaper industry. In the most recent quarter, earnings per share plunged to 13 cents from 60 cents a year earlier. The stock closed at $9.44 Friday, down 3.67 percent. In the last year, it has been as high as $23.73.