The Meet The Publisher Meeting at Grand Ave

Earlier today, I (and several stealthyliberal pals) made our way to the Register’s offices at Grand Ave. for a “Meet the Publisher” lunch with Register publisher Terry Horne.  I estimate the crowd at about 150 people, mostly older Orange Countians feasting on a vareity of box lunches and cold water. 

My purpose for going was to ask a question and make a request, but I didn’t see the place where you were supposed to write a question in advance (an easy way to make sure really tough questions won’t be answered) and I wasn’t called on despite raising my hand every single time there was a pause for a new question.  Then I had to leave for a meeting.  I’ve done the tour of the paper with my Cub Scout troop, so I’m good to go there but must confess a certain joy at watching presses run.

Mr. Horne seems like a nice enough guy.  He recounted his newspaper career and referenced his time in Kansas where he was “proud to know all three Democrats in the state of Kansas” which got a chuckle from the crowd, but not us humorless Liberals.  He proudly proclaimed the Register the country’s largest libertarian newspaper, but had to explain what a libertarian was to the crowd.  He also recounted a Time Magazine story about newspapers most likely to fail this year and noted the story used a single-source; a post from a blogger with an axe to grind whcih wasn’t based in actual research (like an Adam Probolsky column).  He said he almost cancelled his Time subscription (or failed to renew it) because of the story.  He also got into extensive detail on the troubles facing the newspaper industry.

The Register is profitable, he told those there.  Most papers are.  But disruptive innovations from the Internets (yes, he used the word “Internets”) is cutting into the paper’s ad revenue.  Dramatically.  I just have to wonder, if the paper is profitable, why the layoffs and why the furloughs (and why Probolsky as a local columnist)?

My question is pretty simple, but it’s a two-parter:  Shouldn’t a newspaper reflect the values of the community it serves?

The answer should be : Yes.

The second part is: Since the New York Times, LA Times, Washington Post and Boston Globe, all considered liberal newspapers, have conservative columnists (with the New York Times going as far to say if your letter to the editor promotes a conservative point of view, it’s more likely to be published),why is there no center-left voice in the Register’s Opinion pages?  I mean they have George Will , Mark Steyn (who’s not even American for gosh sake’s), David Brooks, Star Parker, John Stossel et al.  The best lefties can ever do is a “Reader Rebuttal.”  I think we get an Orange Grove column once in a blue moon or whenever an albino dolphin washes up at Laguna Beach.  We get the crappy end of the stick on as well.

There are a half million registered Democratic voters in Orange County; that’s more than twice the Register’s daily circulation and six times more than the number of registered Libertarians in the state.  It’s not like I’m asking for equal time (fair and balanced?); I’m asking for one. 

So the Register’s center/hard right tilt with no center-left columnist doesn’t reflect the views of 500,000 plus (there are liberals not registered to vote and many of them young people) effectively alienates a large market opportunity for new readers.  Plus, adding a lefty columnist would likely cause the right wing readers to overload the Letters to the Editor staff with screeds about allowing some pinko commie drivel in the paper. 

I have a journalism degree.  I always thought the editorial pages were there to stimulate debate, but it’s kind of hard to do when the conversation is only one sided.  If Mr. Horne himself can justify cancelling his subscription to Time Magazine over a story, doesn’t that give me license to cancel my Register subscription for the same reason?


  1. I thought Mr. Home’s presentation was boring. His powerpoint lecture came across like he was talking to investors or sales people, not readers.

    His comments did little to explain how the paper was going to survive. Indeed, I think he pretty much made the case that the Register is failing to evolve in an era that has shifted increasingly towards online readerships. Their approach to advertising reflects a lack of understanding the new paradigm.

    When he mentioned that papers in smaller communities are doing better than those in larger media markets, he seemed to miss the reason for their success, namely that in smaller communities, more people are going to subscribe to the single source of local information.

    In larger markets where television, radio, internet, and other media sources exist, papers are less likely to attract enough subscribers to survive. The Register’s local publications are more likely to attract an audience in the long run in my opinion.

    Also, when he lamented the drop in classified ads, I wished someone would have pointed out that when you call to place an ad, you’re lucky if you speak to a live person before you get tired of waiting on hold. I would urge Mr. Home to address the Register’s lousy customer service as a start.

  2. Dan,

    I think you misunderstood. When Horne stated the Register is profitable he meant to say it is profitable for him.

  3. I have witnesses RHackett. But I agree with Misha, the presentation seemed more geared towards stockholders and advertisers than readers. I loved the fact that one question called on Horne not to cut investigative reporting. The OC Watchdog is must reading and one of the best examples of reporting.

    Michael, I’ll take your Thom Hartmann definition of a Libertarian a step further. Thom suggests a Libetarian is a conservative who wants to smoke pot and patronize prostitutes without getting arrested for either (that’s what Hartmann says, so take it up with him Libertarians).

    And before Steve Greenhut shows up to comment, let me be the first to say yes, many Register columns written by him and Alan Bock at times are aligned with a a-hem Liberal point of view. They took stances against the War in Iraq, Bush’s spending, Bush’s abuse of the constitution, and in favor of gay marriage, but there is still a pervasive view from the editorial leadership that anything that Liberals and Democrats are for are anti-freedom and bad. This is simply not true. It’s simply a different view of the purpose of government and where government should be allocating resources. But again, when all we have left is “Reader Rebuttals” its impossible to have any sort of meaningful debate.

  4. Misha,

    I respectfully disagree with your analysis. I spent 13 years at the Register, and the last seven running The Capistrano Dispatch.

    I’d suggest smaller papers do better because they are more in touch with their communities. They understand a community’s values and a community’s fears. They understand how an event will ripple beneath the surface.

    They know what is important to readers and what is not.

    With no disrespect to the Register (in this instance) that is difficult to do for a larger paper. When I was there, and covered South OC, we used what we called “The Brea Test.” It went like this. Something really important happened in San Juan Capistrano. Why would people in Brea care?

    That would lead us to scramble to list, say every Boys and Girls Club in the county to try and make an obviously South County story appeal to the entire county.

    That just took what could have made a strong story weak. Most of the time Brea doesn’t care.

    That’s the reason smaller papers can survive.

    Now there’s an argument that the Register could get in touch with it’s community, understand not only how each city and group works, but how they play into OC as a whole, but that costs a little more money and requires a little trust in your writers and your readers … and this is a newspaper that decided long ago OC readers wanted short, shallow stories. (Disrespect intended there.)

  5. Jonathan — I agree with your assessment that community newspapers will survive and thrive. People always want to know what the city council is doing and read about high school sports. I’m always amazed that there are cities back East with much smaller populations than Capo or Irvine and they have a daily newspaper. I for one wouldlove to put together a group to buy the Irvine World News back from the Register.

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