The Mario Blog
Orange County Register: fueling optimism for newspaper industry

TAKEAWAY: Last week was the annual gathering of the American Society of News Editors in Washington, DC, and, apparently there was a sense of optimism at the gathering—-something rare the past few years. One newspaper mentioned often was the Orange County Register.

TAKEAWAY: Last week was the annual gathering of the American Society of News Editors in Washington, DC, and, apparently there was a sense of optimism at the gathering—-something rare the past few years. One newspaper mentioned often was the Orange County Register.

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Each new hire at The Register has his/her photo on the wall.

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For Memorial Day, The Register displayed a full-page illustration of the American flag by artist Fred Matamoros.

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This full-page graphic by Goertzen is one of several in a series on surfing in Orange County.

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New special sections

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Three quarterly magazines run by Pam Marshak/ Publications Editor

A USA Today piece reports that there was a change of mood at the ASNE gathering this year.

Here is the quote that got my attention:

There’s a sense that many obituaries for print were premature. A key turning point was the advent of charging for digital content and, most important, bundled subscriptions that offer access across multiple platforms.

A star in this new play of optimism was, no surprise, the Orange County Register, which lately has become the envy of publishers everywhere for the progress it has made, adding staffers and pages at a time when most newspapers are doing exactly the opposite. We keep an eye on the OCR, for sure.

My good friend Jeff Goertzen is senior graphics journalist and consultant at the Orange County Register, so I asked him to send me his personal impressions about what’s happening in this seemingly exciting newsroom:

It’s amazing to see what’s happening at The Register. In my 25-plus years in the industry, I’ve never seen such a dramatic change take place, almost overnight. I attribute the success of The Register to our publisher, Aaron Kushner, who comes into this industry with fresh eyes, a willingness to invest and unconventional ideas on how to fix this mess that’s been made of the newspaper industry. The current business model of slashing staff, slashing content and giving it away free on the internet just isn’t working.

According to Jeff, within a year, publisher Kushner has hired about 175 employees in the newsroom alone, added more than 12 special sections, revamped the newspaper’s 23 weekly community newspapers and even gone daily with two of them. The OCR now has a paywall for its web content and has increased the price of the paper

Content and the new Orange County Register

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The Register’s weeklies

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Faith and Values is one of the newest sections

How about the content?, I asked Jeff.

Our focus is primarily inspirational news of the people and places of Orange County in addition to our traditional watchdog role. All of us are pitching in and bringing new story ideas to the table. No idea is too crazy, and it’s fun. Hard news has its place, but we try to focus on the “why” and the “how” instead of just the “what.” We prominently feature inspiring stories, rich in story telling and visuals. The quantity and quality of photos and graphics in the paper has increased dramatically. For example, since I arrived in October, our graphics department has more than doubled in size. It has done 3 double truck graphics, more than two dozen full-page graphics, and seven graphics or illustrations for 1A, not to mention our daily work. That’s more than my department did in seven years at The Denver Post!.

A few days ago in this blog I commented about the thinning of the American newspaper (fewer pages per section), while the OCR has added 768 pages of content a month. Based on this report, the advertisers and the readers are happy and getting on with the program.

The results for the OCR?

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A double-truck graphic on California Missions by graphic artist Scott Brown

According to Jeff, all the changes seem to be paying off. “For three consecutive quarters, we have seen year-over-year revenue increases. We have retained most current subscribers, even added new ones. Who in the industry can boast that?,” Jeff said.

“It used to be easy to find a Register in the kiosks on the streets. Now, most are empty by noon.”

However, at the ASNE gathering, while agreeing that there is reason for optimism, Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of the American Press Institute, reminded everyone that mobile is the future and urged the editors to start designing for mobile platforms. He also sounded a theme that I always include in my presentations to publishers and editors: view technology as the great opportunity it presents, the digital age has increased the audience for the news we produce.

All those “street journalists” out there armed with phones that turn them into instant reporters, videographers and photographers, can only capture a moment of the story. They made the audience curious for more and that is where they turn to the work of professional journalists.

In my view, as we get into the second half of 2013, we will hear fewer publishers expressing a one way choice for digital or print first. Instead, we will see more programs that emphasize the media quartet and that remind readers/users that it is one brand across platforms, where subscription packages can be purchased to get the news where they want it when they want it.

Finally, I think, publishers may be approaching the various platforms as the audience does: moving from one to the other, not prioritizing, and willing to pay for good content that filters across all platforms.

This, along with the success at the Orange County Register, provides plenty of reason for optimism.

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