Thursday, August 9, 2012

More on the Gazette's new owner

Posted By on Thu, Aug 9, 2012 at 12:29 PM

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Now that his purchase of Freedom Communications has closed, new owner Aaron Kushner has talked with some of his papers about what the future might hold.

Most interesting was a conversation he had two weeks ago with the Gazette's Rich Laden, in which he did nothing to squelch rumors the G will be flipped again: "We are going to engage in a strategic and thoughtful process with respect to the Gazette and the Pacific group papers about how do we best serve those communities. If it is through our long-term ownership of them, that’s wonderful and obviously we wouldn’t have bought them if we didn’t think they were fabulous franchises. They are. It may also be that there is an owner for the Gazette who can do an even better job than we can."

But if that doesn't happen, it seems his hand on the helm may pay off for the folks in the Pikes Peak region. In the same interview with Laden — where he also says he has no plans to change the paper's libertarian stance, and no cuts in staff are (currently) planned — Kushner says that he's going to push people and pages, instead of shrinking them. He repeated that in an interview with his new flagship, the Orange County Register, as well as hinting at what might come, pay-wall-wise:

The idea, he said, is to get Sunday-only subscribers to buy a weekend subscription and those buying the paper's weekend package to pay for additional days and for them ultimately to be converted to seven days a week. ...

"The conventional wisdom is that you must put digital first if you are going to be successful," Kushner told the Register staff. "I believe there is actually only one thing we should be putting first, which is subscribers."

Digital, he said, will be a part of that but mostly he's interested in beefing up the print edition ...

Kushner said readers ultimately will have to pay to read the Register online; as with most of his initiatives, how that will work will be decided later.

In the meantime, a few more details about the deal have trickled out via press release. Crystal Financial LLC says it "has provided a senior secured term loan to support the acquisition of Freedom Communications, Inc. by 2100 Trust LLC." And Lampert Debt Advisors' president, Randy Lampert, spoke to some of the overall terms of the agreement.

"This transaction was characterized by unprecedented speed of execution, unusual complexity arising from contemplated post-merger strategic plans [emphasis added] and secular considerations about the industry, characteristics that parallel our strengths as a firm," he says in a statement. "The successful closing is a testament to the strength and caliber of the management team and its vision for the newspaper industry."

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