Today, attorneys representing the Orange County Register will ask a bankruptcy judge in federal court to let Freedom Communications sell its assets to Digital First Media instead of Tribune Publications. The Reg will argue that they don’t expect Tribune to beat an anti-trust lawsuit filed by the feds after Tribune won an auction last week for the Freedom carcass, and thus a sale to Digital First is a must. Time is of the essence: after March 31, Freedom’s creditors will literally turn off the lights and dunk Register editor Rob Curley in a vat of ink if they haven’t been paid by that date.
Tribune vows to own the Register, feds be damned—after all, their $56 million bid beat Digital First by about $4 million. But it looks like Freedom’s argument has a good chance of winning. And if that happens, the Reg will have the pleasure of beating the Times in one final, concluding, humiliating, triumphant skirmish of their 100 Years’ OC Newspaper War.
Old-timers will remember that at one point, the Times had their own Orange County edition, employing more than 200 in its newsroom staff with the expressed purpose of destroying the Register at its own game. It was a mighty operation, one with a gigantic office and printing press off Sunflower Avenue in Costa Mesa (across the street from IKEA) that opened in the 1980s and saw many journalism luminaries do a stint there: Washington Post editor Marty Baron, Pulitzer Prize winner J.R. Moehringer, former Times editor Russ Stanton and current Times editor-publisher Davan Maharaj, among others. It was the holding pen for our own Jim Washburn and Rose Apodaca before they helped to start this infernal rag. The Times regularly dominated the OC Press Club awards, and gleefully reported its own circulation gains while laughing whenever the Reg stumbled.
Washburn wrote the best obit on the Times OC back in 2002. Here’s him recounting the glory days:
Along with an “Orange County” section packed with local stories, letters and editorials, OC-related stories routinely ran on A1. Local sports were generously covered down to the prep level. The features section brimmed with OC authors, crackpots and society doings. It was in the Times OC‘s now mud-swept confines that legendary entertainment editor Tony Lioce (a man who is to journalism what buccaneering is to sailing, and we all gladly served under his flag) once stood and pronounced, “We will look back on this as our Camelot.”
The Times really, truly believed that it would beat the Register, devoting untold millions to make that happen. And it was all for naught, as Washburn recounted, noting how the end for the Times OC really came once Tribune bought the Times Mirror chain from the Chandler family back in the early 2000s. It’s a victory still told in newspaper circles, and one still held up high by the few remaining Register old-timers, the ones who trembled at the idea of the Times owning the Register and eviscerating it. The Reg’s new owners will probably do the same—but hey, better to get nuked by Bulgaria instead of Russia, I guess.