“I don’t feel safe. I don’t think anybody feels safe."
– anonymous Orange County Register employee
Orange County, Calif., is South Beach, Fla., without the humidity and tight Dolphin shorts. Nothing seems to affect this place, this celebration of mellowness and commerce, where surfers and CEOs co-exist and the horrors of the world stay safely outside the county’s gated communities.
It’s no wonder that in this environment, The Orange County Register thrives. Its conservative bent suits the locals’ psyches, and its “we’re not Los Angeles” attitude is a badge of pride as much as a rally cry whenever the "liberals" from the north attempt to breach the “Orange Curtain.”
So the news that the Register is planning layoffs of about one-third of its 1,600 employees comes as somewhat of a shock. Yes, newspaper layoffs are nothing new – in fact, they are about as common nowadays as a sunrise. Newspapers, including the Register, are still profitable, though they are not profitable enough for the conglomerates and private investment firms who own them. So in lieu of addressing the root causes and updating the product to fit modern news consumption trends, many newspapers take the short-term approach of cutting staff and stunting quality.
But the fact that this is happening in Orange County is significant. This county is one of the most affluent, well educated in the nation. Although part of the Greater Los Angeles market, Orange County doesn’t have its own major television news outlet or local news radio station. This is a place that depends on print – if Orange County can’t support a newspaper, what major metropolitan area in the United States can?
Internet news sites and Craig’s List don’t stop at the Orange County line. The Orange Curtain can’t keep out blogs or mobile phones, or the growing social journalism revolution that is remaking the way people find, consume and, now, participate in the news.
To be fair, it’s not like the Register will be closing its doors anytime soon. Despite a more than $20 million advertising revenue deficit, the Register will still turn a healthy profit. Staff will first be offered buyout packages, and if enough accept, then layoffs may not be necessary.
Nevertheless, the Pandora’s box is now open, and as the Register’s competitors up the road at the Los Angeles Times know, it’s almost impossible to close it again.
Register Publisher N. Christian Anderson, to his credit, supports his Times counterparts — publisher Jeffrey Johnson and editor Dean Baquet — in their refusal to make additional staff cuts there. For Anderson, there is a better way to bring newspapers like the Times and the Register back from the brink than sacrificing good journalism.
“We have to figure out ways to grow revenue," Anderson told the Times. "All problems go away when you grow revenue."