Freedom Communications

By CHRISTINE HAUGHNEY
OCT. 19, 2014

Ever since the entrepreneur Aaron Kushner bought into the newspaper business two years ago, he has generated a steady stream of headlines — about himself.

Last week, Mr. Kushner stepped away from his role as publisher of The Orange County Register, his company’s flagship newspaper, and The Los Angeles Times sued his company, Freedom Communications, for failing to pay $3.5 million for delivering its papers. Details of that lawsuit elicited barbs from some critics, and prompted The Orange County Weekly to compare Mr. Kushner to a character from the Popeye comic strip “who’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”

The lawsuit and shift at the top of The Orange County Register come after last month’s announcement that Mr. Kushner would shut down The Los Angeles Register after only five months of publication. And he confirmed there would be additional layoffs at Freedom Communications, in a year in which job cuts have already been made.

Mr. Kushner, who looked to buy both The Boston Globe and The Los Angeles Times, has boldly presented himself as a potential rival to business magnates like Rupert Murdoch and David Geffen. He emphasized last week that his papers remained on a path of success and said he stepped down as publisher of The Orange County Register — and brought in Richard Mirman, a former executive at Harrah’s Entertainment, as interim publisher — because he had too many jobs to handle. He said his latest problems stemmed from The Los Angeles Times’s efforts to smear his name.

“I was not removed. I’m the principal owner, C.E.O. and chairman of Freedom Communications, and hired a world-class executive to lead the day-to-day operations for The Register,” Mr. Kushner said by telephone. “I do know that the L.A. Times has been spreading rumors about us to try and hurt our business.”

Matthew Hutchison, a spokesman from Tribune Publishing, which owns The Los Angeles Times, said in an email: “The Times has consistently acted with integrity and professionalism in all of its communications with vendors, independent contractors and with the OCR itself. We categorically deny the assertion.”

Mr. Mirman said Mr. Kushner and Eric Spitz, Mr. Kushner’s business partner, had hired him to apply to the newspaper business what he learned consulting for businesses in the retail, cable and truck-stop industries. He said he would focus the papers on their core business and declined to offer more details.

“There were things that really did work and there were things that really didn’t work,” Mr. Mirman said. “This is not really a question about the quality of the journalism. This is about the business of newspapers.”

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