As the Orange County Register's core readership dies off or white-flights it for Henderson, Tombstone or Bend, the flagship paper of Freedom Communications is frantically trying to attract new subscribers—even if that involves appropriating feminist slogans, flouting zoning regulations, and (yikes) increasing newsroom diversity.
Consider their newest marketing campaign, "Take Back the Morning." In a four-page insert included in the Reg's Sunday edition, publisher N. Christian Anderson III (the "N" does not stand for "Hans") announced that the paper is revamping the libertarian publication to make it a must-read for people too young to remember what newspaper reading used to be like. He harkens back to a time when the "newspaper prepared us for the business of the day without making unrealistic demands . . . And it was as detailed or as cursory as we wanted it to be—because we were in control. It's time to take back that control. It's time to take back the morning."
It's not clear what psychic energy the Reg is tapping here—the infantile desire for a life so small and unsurprising that we imagine we "control" it? The nostalgia for a past in which gray-flannel train passengers in New Haven passed the hour's commute into Wall Street by reading the Times' society page?—but the images suggest the Reg is after the demographic the paper needs to stay fiscally solvent: young, upwardly mobile people pictured in Scandinavian flats or on the beach before volleyball, a copy of the Regnearby.
The oddest feature in the Reg's "Take Back the Morning" campaign is the slogan itself. Women's History Month celebrations at college campuses continue to hold a silent candlelit procession honoring "Take Back the Night," an event launched in the 1970s by women to protest sexual abuse.
Meanwhile, the Reg continues to hang a monster 250-square-foot banner from its five-story Santa Ana offices despite acknowledging in a Sept. 17 editorial that they were violating city ordinances. "All the Register wanted to do was encourage readers, and potential readers, driving by its headquarters on the I-5 freeway, to follow the admonition in its new advertising campaign and 'Take Back the Morning,'" stated the unsigned editorial. "But this simple appeal, presented on a tasteful banner on the side of the Register building, was too much for the bureaucrats at City Hall."
The Register's grab for new readers isn't limited to marketing campaigns. The Reg has appropriated the Weekly's logo for its classified advertising pages; if we were the Reg, we'd sue. The paper recently moved reporter Mayrav Saar from pure news to a kind of Sex In the City column. In order to boost minority readership, the paper recently hired a writer to cover Latino entertainment and culture, and contracts minority reporters fresh out of college to cover prominent beats despite little experience. The editorial page of old would have called that bald tokenism, and a few readers have. In a letter to the editor, one reader asked of Saar's column, "What's next, the inevitable monthly cycle column?"
The Reg is in a difficult spot, marketingwise—trying to cultivate younger readers without pissing off its Greatest Generation subscribers. At least one Registerstaff writer has the whole middle-aged anxiety thing upside down. That reporter (a self-identified Latino) sent an email from a Register e-mail account commending the Weekly's Gustavo Arellano for his article "Fear of a Brown Planet" (September 5-11), but went on to say that Arellano had become "the Weekly's token Latino writer. But I guess somebody has to represent, right?" Represent what?