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Setting the Record Straight – What do You Want For 10 Bucks an Hour?

boring meetingNo Planning Commission meeting this week so…

It’s amazing to me how many time Republicans will jump to take credit where credit isn’t due. A hat tip to The Liberal OC for setting the record straight on just who is responsible for getting the County of Orange out of their latest tub of hot water.

It seems Assemblywoman Diane Harkey, R-Dana Point, tweeted an announcement that a deal had been struck with the state regarding the $146 million dollars in Vehicle License Fees the County owes the state. The Orange County Register seemed to have taken that to mean Harkey was responsible for the deal. Nothing could be further from the truth.

From The Lib:

The funding loss occurred when Governor Brown figured out in 2011 that the state no longer was required to give Orange County that funding because the county had refinanced its bankruptcy debt. When the county initially structured the financing for it’s more than $1 billion in debt, they had to get the state to dedicate their share of VLF to pay the loans. When the County refinanced the debt in 2005, county leaders ignored warnings and failed to negotiate the continuance of those funds through a property tax swap. The governor figured out the county’s mistake and kept the VLF funding. In response the county, through former Auditor Controller David Sundstrom, decided to keep $73 million in property tax revenues. The state to sued and the county lost.

So, now the County owes the state a ton of money and, it seemed, with no way to pay it back. When ignoring the problem no longer worked, they went to the legislature with their hat in hand. The mostly Democratic legislature seemingly took delight in saying, “No.” The courts had already been asked to weigh in on the matter with pretty much the same result.

So, where to go?

Senator Lou Correa, of course. Correa has helped the county out of more than one tight spot and, in turn,  has taken a lot of flack from his fellow Democrats. But, it is his moderate stand coupled with his willingness to cross the aisle to get the job done that makes him a valuable resource, even for the conservatives in the county.

Lou supported legislation that will allow a property tax – VLF swap, helped along by fellow Democrat Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva (now, it seems all of the OC legislators jumped on board), that will set things a little more “right” in the Real OC.

As The Lib points out, though, the Register seemingly missed that point, either on accident or purpose and attempted to lamely give the credit where it was nowhere due. They said they were “baffled, though not surprised” the Register would leave out an important detail like that.

We’re not. Especially since the OC Weekly broke an interesting story on the way the Register is gathering its news. It all comes down to money.

In a recent article on Navel Gazing Blog, Gustavo Arellano broke the story the Register’s owner and publisher has cut back the stipends and housing for cub reporters. Aside from the valuable learning experience working for the only libertarian-bent newspaper in Southern Califoria, fledgling reporters were being paid the princely sum of $10 an hour and “stacked four to a two-bedroom apartment”.

But the wheels are slowly falling off owner Aaron Kushner’s gravy train. Last month, the Los Angeles Times revealed he’s no longer matching contributions to an employee’s 401k retirement fund; now, media website Romenesko reports the Reg will stop housing its cub reporters and send them off to the OC wilderness with a $750 monthly housing stipend.

Of course, as the Weekly points out, there is not much to rent in Orange County for that kind of money. But, if four of them continue to live together, well, that’s $3k a month and I know a few places they can rent, even in Irvine.

The real rub, though, is what kind of reporting are you going to get for ten bucks an hour? Even the burger flippers at McDonalds are asking for more than that. And, they don’t even get a byline.

The Register explains they are not cutting corner, just fine tuning implementation. Uh-huh. Well, we’ve seen Kuschner spending a ton of money on revamping every facet of the newspaper, implementing a poorly thought out paywall that discourages participation and emphasis on the dying art of print news. So, we are not surprised at this recent turn or the slip to near tabloid style reporting of the news.

The Register still has a few reporters that make the paper worth reading. But, when Frank Mickadeit is found writing a serious article (he’s actually good at it) rather than that tripey column he usually writes, you know there is a problem. And, it’s doubtful buying a cash crop of junior reporters will help. We will still take quality over quantity any day.

Another Nail In The Coffin?

Courtesy of Inklingmedia.net

Courtesy of Inklingmedia.net

If you are one of the dwindling customer base that still pays to have the Orange County Register delivered to your door, you have already heard the news. If you are, like me, a non-paying pariah that was happy with navigating the smothering ads produced on the Register website in order to access the pre-filtered news, you are in for sticker shock.

The Register announced that, beginning today, the website will implement a paywall, web-speak for charging to access their website. “”It is unfair to our paying (print) subscribers that someone else is
getting our content for free,” said Eric Spitz, president of Freedom Communications Inc., which owns the Register. Citing facts that newspapers across the country have been implementing paywalls to shore up profits in a dwindling market, where advertising revenue has fallen and costs have increased, the Register actually believes the change to a paying venue will increase readership.

This is not the first plunge into pay for play access for the newspaper. Several years ago, it introduced an on-line version of the newspaper (which we assume is still available) for those customers who preferred a traditional newspaper in digital format. The on-line version seemed to have full content available but allowed viewers to quickly access content of interest to them through hot-links to specific pages and sections.

Recently, the newspaper chose to block access to its local city newspapers, such as the Tustin News, from all but their loyal subscribers. This followed their edict to stop free delivery to homes that did not subscribe to the regular daily paper. If you are like me, this is not big loss. When Aaron Kushner first purchased Freedom Communications, which publishes the Register, he vowed to make a more readable newspaper and increase print circulation. Among the changes made were more readable and interesting local city newspapers. The Register immediately reversed the layoff trend that decimated their award-winning newsroom and began hiring staff from around the country.

Also touted was the new look of the local throw away papers like the Tustin News. Promising more relevant content that would be of interest to the residents, the newspapers took on a redesigned tabloid style with more color, more local sports and local columnists. It also took on a lot more advertising than under the previous owners. Even the electronic version sported huge, full-page ads taking up the last third of the paper.

And, while there was plenty of increased content regarding local sports and quite a few local guest columnists (including yours truly), the city newspapers have severely lacked what local, hometown newspapers around the country cut their teeth on: local news and discourse. Look in any of the city newspapers produced by the Register and you will find a distinct lack of reporting on all but the most benign topics. There is no real reporting on the city council meetings or planning commission. Notably missing is political discourse in the so-called opinion pages. So, again, no big loss on anyone’s part.

It was probably inevitable, regardless of who holds the reins, that the Register would attempt to eke profit out of anything it can. It is, after all, a business. It’s business, however, is running smack into the wall of the blogosphere where more and more people are turning to for news and information. Why pay to read the Orange County Register when you can click a link on your computer or tablet and read Orange County news from The Liberal OC or Costa Mesa News from the Bubbling Caldron. If you are to the right, you can read Cal Watchdog and to the left, the Orange Juice Blog. Of course, if you want to read anything political, particularly if it has to do with our corrupt city government, you can read it here. All of this, of course, is free and will remain so.

The “new” OC Register will give you a seven day free trial after which you will be required to subscribe. Subscriptions will mirror the print newspaper in that 7 day a week subscribers will have 7 day a week access and weekend only subscribers will have weekend only access. The alternative is to shell out two bucks a day for daily access, when you want it. The website will continue to give you the weather and, presumably, all the advertisement you can stomach.

There is, supposedly, a plus side to the new program. The new “membership” will give subscribers access to other goodies:

Spitz said he hopes to build Register readership, both print and online, through a new membership program, Register Connect. The program gives seven-day subscribers added value through access to other events and activities.

For example, the Register’s Golden Envelope program, unveiled in November, allowed seven-day subscribers to designate a $100 gift cheque for advertising in the newspaper to the charity of their choice. In addition, full-week subscribers also will be eligible for free Angels baseball tickets and restaurant gift certificates on a regular basis.

Spitz is assuming these “value-added” premiums will help increase readership. We think it is pretty sad to have to rely on gimmicks rather than good reporting and an outdated method of delivery to justify cost in the hopes of gaining subscribers.

I gave up the onus of monthly subscription to any daily newspaper years ago. The Register attempted to entice me back by offering “Sunday Only” service for 6 months and then, never stopped delivery. That’s OK, my wife likes the coupons and my daughter likes the comics. As long as it is for free….. Me? I’ll stick with the blogs. I find them much more truthful and forthcoming without the expense.