Retorts: News takes on a different shape

AS THE Orange County Register downsizes, opportunities arise for other news outlets to grown (OC Tribune photo).

There was once a “war” in Orange County that lasted for years before petering out as both combatants were overtaken by a new and more powerful force. A signpost of that former conflict appeared last week.

You may have heard about this: The Orange County Register has moved from its imposing six-story tower in Santa Ana – a familiar salmon structure on the Santa Ana Freeway – to a couple of floors in an office building in Anaheim.

Once a dominant force in news media in the county, the Register – like many newspapers – is a shadow of its former self. Circulation has dropped by two-thirds. Advertising is off, dramatically. The paper has changed hands twice in the last four years and is now part of a chain whose very name –Digital First Media – suggests the final eventual tolling of the newsprint bell. The internet is now the king.

Scoot down the San Diego Freeway to Costa Mesa and you’ll find an even more complete retreat. On Sunflower Avenue off Harbor Boulevard there used to be a huge complex operated by the Los Angeles Times. It’s Orange County edition had over 150,000 subscribers and owner Times Mirror had dreams of overtaking the Register. Much sweat and treasure was spent in that effort. I know; I was a correspondent for The Times/Orange County in 1989-91. The OC edition was erased a few years ago as the Times’ owners withdrew back across Coyote Creek,

Now that building is likewise cleansed of ink-stained wretches. It’s called Press.com and aspires to use the old newspaper offices as a loft-style nexus of offices and other space.

This is my roundabout way of answering a question I often hear: how is the Orange County Tribune doing? And, as often: what is the Orange County Tribune doing?

The answers are these: a) Pretty darn well and b) seeking to fill the vacuum created by the decline of those one-time journalistic giants.

In some ways, the Tribune is the spiritual continuance of the Garden Grove Journal. We sold it to Freedom Communications (The Register) in August 2013 and – frankly – watched them run it into the ground and finally close the Journal in March 2016. The journalistic urge being deep in our DNA, we launched the online-only Tribune in August 2016 and have seen a dramatic growth.

Focusing on our core cities of Garden Grove, Huntington Beach and Westminster, we have seen tremendous readership growth in the last few months. We had over 15,000 readers in April, and if current trends continue, we expect to double that before long.

We have held off soliciting advertising until we had a strong base of readers to offer as a marketing basis, and it looks like we are there, or close to it. We expect to be soliciting advertising this fall.

Although newspaper circulation has basically imploded, there is still a hunger for news, especially local news. As bigger, older news media decline, smaller, more agile alternatives arise. Comprehensive non-partisan local news from people who live in and know the area still has a place in the Southern California sun, and we hope to keep growing. The sky is still the limit.

Jim Tortolano’s Retorts is supposed to appear each Wednesday, but sometimes he gets busy.

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