March 11, 2015 Last Updated 8:46 am

Aaron Kushner abruptly resigns as head of Freedom Comm. – former casino exec takes over as publisher of the OC Register

Co-owner Eric Spitz also steps down as president, but assumes new role as Freedom Communication’s chairman of the board

The end came unexpectedly late last night for Aaron Kushner as the ambitious, but inexperienced co-owner of Freedom Communications resigned Tuesday evening. His co-owner, Eric Spitz also resigned as president but got a soft landing by ascending to chairman of the board of Freedom Communications.

OCR-kushnerKushner has a high roller, betting that quickly launching a group of print newspapers to compete against the L.A. Times and acquiring the The Press Enterprise in neighboring Riverside might spur a renaissance for the company which publishes The Orange County Register.

Now, a real, honest to goodness, high roller, Rich Mirman, a former casino marketing executive, takes over as president and chief executive at Freedom Communications. My goodness, what a mess.

I working at Hearst’s Los Angeles Herald Examiner the day the Orange County Register was able to a announce that it had surpassed Hearst’s afternoon paper to become the second largest daily in Southern California (as LAers know, San Diego doesn’t count). It took a concerted effort on the part of Hearst to not only lose to Times Mirror but then to Freedom Communications. First Hearst had to agree to merging its two papers while the Times did the same, then it took the afternoon slot, then it started a war with the union that lasted nine years. Later, after it had fallen far behind the Times, it pulled back in Orange County, the fastest growing part of Southern California.

But Kushner’s time at the helm rivals that of George Hearst. His move to “double down on print,” as Steve Buttry writes today, was quite a decision.

“Digital media is a tough enough field (as GigaOm’s suspension of operations this week showed). For a struggling newspaper to double down on print, well that was a business based on fantasy,” Buttry wrote.

“I’m sure for a year or so, working at the OCR was a blast. I saw the enthusiasm in friends’ Facebook posts. I felt happy for my friends who were already there and for more friends who joined the adventure in key positions. But I felt dread, too.”

That’s easy to understand. While launching print newspapers into a new market is risky enough, doing so without first securing boat loads of new advertising is foolish – as it launching these new products without a solid digital publishing strategy to go along with it. It is a mistake I see occur all the time and it is not limited to print. Plenty of new digital magazines are launched into the various digital newsstands without good supporting websites.

  • Steve Buttry 2 years ago

    Good post. It was fun to watch, sort of like an action movie you know is going to end badly. Thanks for the mention.