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Digital First Media talks future of newsgathering in OC, Inland Empire after key acquisitions

Arts writer Richard Chang, center, works on his computer in the newsroom of the Orange County Register.
Arts writer Richard Chang, center, works on his computer in the newsroom of the Orange County Register.
Jae C. Hong/AP

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With the acquisitions of the Orange County Register and the Riverside Press-Telegram, Digital First Media has further expanded its footprint in the news business in Southern California.

The Colorado-based Digital First Media is the nation’s second largest newspaper company by circulation, boasting a slate of over 60 dailies in 18 states. In Southern California, the group owns 11 daily newspapers and a number of weeklies. It was announced last month that those properties will be operated under a new division, Southern California News Group, headed by president and publisher Ron Hasse.

Hasse joins Larry Mantle for an interview.

Interview Highlights

You've already laid off 70 employees, how many of those were on the editorial side for the two papers?

Hasse: Not many at all-- and we didn't necessarily lay them off. What we did was decide who we were going to hire for the new company. I understand semantics, but we did buy the newspapers out of bankruptcy, so there are going to be some financial challenges that we're going to face right out of the gate.

The Orange County Register has been losing big amounts of money, the Press-Enterprise is lightly profitable, what are your plans for making both properties viable?

Hasse: We have a successful track record of doing that. Our daily newspapers know how to make local news meaningful and profitable. So, we're going to find ways --primarily on growing revenue. One of the things that has not been done at the two properties is growing digital revenue. We're very good at that, as our name says, Digital First Media. We're going to look for ways to adjust some of our expenses that are non-payroll, because there were a lot of deals that were struck that can be altered and changed.

I have to challenge you on the digital side. I have to say, I find your papers' websites extremely difficult to deal with. Your digital presence just doesn't match up to a lot of other publications, so what are you going to do to raise delivery?

Hasse: I can understand why you say that. We're proud of the progress that we've made, but we've got a long way to go. What you have to understand is that "Digital First" in our name is a commitment. We've been investing heavily in that regard, I think you're going to see some great improvements over the course of the next year in all of the Digital First publications, on both the digital front as well as the other platforms.

Digital First's strategy-- both with the LA News Group and the Bay Area News Group-- has cut back on community news coverage. There's a focus on the larger region and sharing of reporting between the different papers and centralizing costs. Up in the Bay Area, it's all being consolidated into two different publications-- one for the South Bay and one for the East Bay. Is that what we're going to be seeing with the Orange County Register the Riverside Press-Enterprise?

Hasse: No, that's not what you're going to be seeing. I'm aware of what happened in the Bay Area and I think they did what was right for their particular market. Though we're owned by a parent company, they understand that each market is digital and unique and we'll do what's right for the Southern California market, irrespective of any other decisions that were made in Digital First properties.

Note: This interview has been edited for clarity.

This story has been updated.


Ron Hasse, president and publisher of the newly renamed Southern California News Group, which owns the LA Daily News, Long Beach Press-Telegram, and the new acquisitions, The Orange County Register, and The Riverside Press-Enterprise; he tweets from @RHasse