Media outlets have been calling it a “newspaper war.” The Long Beach Register, a newspaper that will offer local news six days a week, is set to publish its first issue on Monday, Aug. 19. It’s a move that will directly compete with the Press-Telegram, the other daily newspaper geared towards the Long Beach area. There’s a tinge of irony when branding this distinctly unfriendly rivalry between competitors as any kind of “war.” Neither side seems to embrace the title.
Both the Long Beach Register and the Press-Telegram have significant financial backing. The Long Beach Register will be run by the people behind the Orange County Register, which is owned by Freedom Communications Inc. Its owners, Aaron Kushner and Eric Spitz, last year launched an ambitious plan to invest heavily in print media, expanding their newsroom and providing their digital content on a subscription basis. The Long Beach Register’s publisher, Ian Lamont, acknowledges that this is the first time Kushner and Spitz are launching a newspaper outside of Orange County and the first time they’ve started a newspaper from scratch.
Lamont says that his company believes that content is a commodity and that they are investing a great deal to generate content.
“Newspapers for a long time have basically felt that they generated content in order to create advertising products,” Lamont said in a telephone interview, “and therefore they gave away their content digitally, and it made no sense to charge somebody to get content in print form but get it free online.”
The Long Beach Register’s print edition will have two sections focused on local news and sports in the greater Long Beach area and will be packaged with the Orange County Register for delivery to subscribers. The Long Beach paper will average 16 pages in addition to the content in the Orange County Register. The newsstand price will be $1, and the paper will be available online by subscription for $1 per day as well, according to Lamont.
The Long Beach Register’s publisher won’t be among strangers. Lamont himself used to work with the Press-Telegram. His paper has recruited a number of alumni from the Press-Telegram, its main rival, which is owned by MediaNews Group. It is operated by Digital First Media. A spokesman for the Los Angeles News Group (LANG) said that LANG is the division that runs the Press-Telegram and eight other daily newspapers, in addition to a number of weekly papers and other publications.
Lamont says he just doesn’t think of his new media outlet fighting in any kind of battle with the Press-Telegram. He stressed that Digital First Media’s strategy is digital, and his company’s strategy is print.
“I see that as two very distinct business strategies,” Lamont said, “and there’s nothing wrong with a community being covered by multiple newspapers. And as far as readers are concerned, they don’t care about newspaper wars… That’s just something silly that’s just made up. We’re going to be doing our business strategy, and …may the Press-Telegram go about their business strategy.”
Michael Anastasi, who is LANG’s vice president and executive editor, also says he wouldn’t call this a war. “I don’t use the word ‘war’ lightly,” Anastasi said. “To me, war is something that happens in Iraq and Afghanistan, and people get killed… I think that it’s certainly a very competitive environment in Los Angeles and continues to be a very competitive media environment in Los Angeles.” He also pointed out there was one major daily paper in the area that does cover Long Beach news too– the Los Angeles Times.
Anastasi said that his company has continued to improve what they are delivering to their readers. He explained that his company isn’t ignoring its print content. He said both print and digital content are equally important. However, he acknowledged that the digital audience is growing and his company’s job is to serve the consumer wherever they are choosing to receive the news. His company has also invested in their investigative and enterprise-journalism departments, and in addition, the Press-Telegram is scheduled to launch a redesigned website this week, according to Anastasi.
There was one bold move on a digital level that may underscore the differences between the two rival papers. If web users log on to longbeachregister.com, rather than seeing that new publication’s website, they are directed to Press-Telegram’s website. Anastasi says he doesn’t know who in his company should take credit for the purchasing of that domain name, but he said it was a good move.
“Why would we simply say, ‘Go ahead, new competitor. Come over here and take our city. You can have it.’?” Anastasi asked. “I mean, no business would do that and certainly not our business. We have built a relationship with our readers that goes back generations, and we’ll continue to serve our readers as we always have to the best of our ability with outstanding journalism, day in and day out.”
Lamont seems unconcerned that the rival paper snapped up the domain name that bears his paper’s name.
“It’s not a big deal,” he said in a follow-up interview. He explained that the Long Beach Register had planned to use the domain name of lbregister.com all along. He acknowledged that they didn’t buy the domain name longbeachregister.com, but if they had purchased it, it wouldn’t have been used anyway. Lamont added that if the Press-Telegram’s domain name were available, they wouldn’t have purchased it.
Both papers are seeking to be deeply entrenched in Long Beach’s community. Anastasi, an alumnus of California State University Long Beach, says that he is still involved with the university’s alumni advisory committee. He said that the Long Beach community matters to him personally. He points to the Press-Telegram’s historical roots that go back to 1897.
Lamont will proudly point to his new staff of about 20 employees; only one of them doesn’t live in or hasn’t worked in Long Beach. He and his team still have an enormous task list. Lamont says that they’ve signed a lease for offices at 2883 E. Spring St., Suite 250 in Long Beach, and they still have to move into the new office.
He acknowledges it’s a major commitment for his company. They anticipate their distribution will be about 10,000 issues in their initial run on Aug. 19.
“This is a multi-million dollar investment in Long Beach,” Lamont said. “So we hope the community will support us, and we are very confident they will. So, we’ll start with 10,000, and we’ll go from there.”