The Mixer: A Tale of Two Newspapers

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This week, Tribune Company announced it would split into two entities. One to focus on electronic media. Think broadcast, like KTLA-Channel 5 and other stations. Think internet properties that go along with those functions. The other company will be focused on newspapers of the company. The Chicago Tribune, Hartford Courant and, most notably for us, the Los Angeles Times.

To be sure, the Times has already seen the depths of the printing press doldrums in recent years. The paper’s been laying people off for some time now. Just this week, it gave the boot to arts reporter Jori Finkel, much to the consternation of museums and galleries she covered for the paper.

Many see this week’s Tribune announcement as a prelude to getting rid of the newspaper group altogether.

Yet, there’s another story unfolding just to the southeast of LA. The Orange County Register has been on an expansion kick of late, hiring dozens of reporters and other staff members to accommodate a journalism revival there.

The paper’s owner, Aaron Kushner, says he sees journalism as important, and apparently as a money-maker.

Our Mixer panel, KCRW regulars Kevin Roderick from LA Observed and Gustavo Arellano of the OC Weekly, say they are both suspicious of anybody claiming newspapers can make any more than a modest amount of cash.

For the Orange County Register, Gustavo says, that means Kushner — whom he once suggested could be the Stuart Smalley of print journalism — should rethink the paper’s strict paywall. He says the subscription model isn’t a formula for allowing journalists to get stories out far and wide. Like this story, from sports reporter Scott Reid, about how a Los Alamitos horse trainer got mixed up with a Mexican drug cartel. In other words, Gustavo says, great journalism needs eyes.

Yes, subscribers will see. No, most other people will not.

The Times also has a paywall, but Kevin says that paper — which is still a slight moneymaker — can find a way to make it work. That is, if it can mimic the business model used by the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

Neither believe the newspapers will go away. But for the Times, no one is for sure about who will get their hands on it. With possible offers from the conservative industrialists Koch Brothers or LA philanthropist Eli Broad, there’s a threat the paper could become a sounding board for overzealous owners, instead of community reportage.

UPDATE: The entertainment news website The Wrap says Kushner is also still interested in the Los Angeles Times as well.