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Aaron Kushner & Eric Spitz

By Kimberly A. PorrazzoPublished: November 01, 2012

CEO and publisher / president Freedom Communications
Orange County Register, Santa Ana
Hot factor: They intend to save a company – and an entire industry

After more than a decade of decline, continual layoffs and an emaciated flagship publication, the OC Register – owned by the county’s largest media company, Irvine-based Freedom Communications – may have found its saviors. There is a palpable energy emanating from 625 N. Grand Ave. in Santa Ana since new owners, Aaron Kushner and Eric Spitz, arrived from the East Coast.

The two acquired Freedom Communications in July, a deal that included the Register and six other media properties. They say they are confident that, against all odds, they can turn around the 107-year-old OC Register.

The newspaper industry is watching closely. If they succeed, it’s possible they will have saved more than just a single newspaper group.

“I fundamentally believe that great newspapers like the Orange County Register are institutions, not just businesses. And great institutions don’t just go away,” says Kushner, the company’s new CEO and publisher. To that end, he is investing heavily to bolster the paper’s roster of journalists, editors, photographers and support staff.

“I want to be able to have more journalists, not fewer,” he says. “I want to be able to reach more deeply into all of the areas our subscribers are passionate about, not fewer.”

In addition to new staffers, the paper has a new look and a resurrected business section, and there are plans for more products that will, says Kushner, provide more value to Register subscribers. Kushner and Spitz (Spitz is Freedom’s new president) believe that it all starts with quality content, delivered on any device the reader uses – including no device at all.

At age 39, defying a demographic that has embraced everything digital, Stanford alum Kushner prefers to get his news in print. The proof: The floor-to-ceiling shelving in his expansive office, filled with stacks of newspapers from all over.

Spitz, with an MBA from the Sloane School of Management at MIT, is involved in other digital ventures (check out Beerdog.com).

Kushner’s passion for print, merged with Spitz’s digital expertise, may fix Freedom. And in retooling the company, the two may be creating a model that could save the newspaper industry itself. Kushner brushes off this suggestion, saying their efforts aren’t an academic exercise. However, the Boston-based investment firm through which Freedom was acquired, 2100 Trust LLC, was named as such specifically to demonstrate the firm’s commitment to the industry, says Kushner. Spitz hints that there is an awareness that their impact may be far reaching.

“We very much believe that the proper direction in which to move forward is to do stuff and then talk about it. Don’t talk about it and then do it,” says Spitz. “We are eager for the day we can say ‘I told you so.’”

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