The Orange County Register newsroom at its former Santa Ana office in 2012. (Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

By Andrew Khouri
Apr 17, 2018 | 5:00 AM

  • Southern California News Group asks for public support — and perhaps a shift to nonprofit status — amid cuts

The Southern California News Group, which includes the Orange County Register and Los Angeles Daily News, is pushing back against its owner, Digital First Media, calling for public support in the face of steep cuts that have hollowed out its newsrooms.

A series of opinion articles published in print Sunday across the local chain urged readers to pay for professional journalism and pondered a nonprofit ownership model that “plows proceeds back into smart local reporting and civic engagement.”

In 10 articles that went online Friday, editors and current and former reporters didn’t mention Digital First or its controlling owner, Alden Global Capital, by name — eschewing the approach taken by the Denver Post, another DFM paper, which referred to Alden as “vulture capitalists” in its own editorial published earlier this month.

But SCNG Executive Editor Frank Pine wrote that the loss of journalists keeping a watchful eye on communities is a threat to democracy and that if the “Fourth Estate as we know it is to survive, it will require ownership that is invested in its long-term success and a strategy that prizes purpose over profit.”
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“We’re not giving up,” he wrote. “We do, however, need your support.”

The message to readers comes amid sagging fortunes for the nation’s newspapers, which are struggling with declining circulation and advertising revenue as readers shift toward free, online news. Journalists, facing repeated job cuts, are lashing out against investors that they say have strip-mined still-profitable enterprises and pocketed the money.

In addition to immediate financial pressures, journalists see their calling to report the truth under attack from purposely inaccurate articles that are amplified on social media. President Trump frequently lambastes mainstream reporting and has called major news organizations the “enemy of the American people.”

The dual threat to jobs and quality journalism has spurred union drives at papers across the country, including one at the Los Angeles Times, in which journalists this year overwhelming voted to join the NewsGuild-Communications Workers of America.

The articles from SCNG come amid a larger rebellion against owner Digital First Media, which publishes nearly 100 newspapers.

The company, in various forms over the years, scooped up many of the papers in Northern and Southern California and became known for aggressive cuts and sharing reporters across publications. Two years ago, it purchased the Orange County Register and Riverside Press-Enterprise, beating out the parent company of the L.A. Times. SCNG now has more than 20 weekly papers and 11 dailies, including the Long Beach Press-Telegram, the Riverside Press-Enterprise and the Daily Breeze in Torrance.

In a lawsuit filed in March, a minority shareholder in Digital First alleged Alden has used the publisher’s money to make investments that would benefit Alden and are unrelated to journalism. On April 6, the Denver Post published its series of articles, calling on Alden to sell the paper if it couldn’t support good journalism. A few days later, Neil Chase, executive editor of Digital First’s Bay Area News Group, which includes the San Jose Mercury News and the East Bay Times, referred to that push for a sale in his own article: “The union that represents our employees has been saying the same thing for months. They’re right.”

Digital First did not respond to an email seeking comment and Alden did not return a voice message seeking comment. An attorney representing Digital First also did not return a message seeking comment on the lawsuit.

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