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OC Register Parent ‘Well Positioned’ for Future, Says Publisher

News from social media, content marketing, digital newsletters.

The answers for where the media needs to meet readers looking for news, and what products to offer advertisers, has never been more fractured.

Newspaper operations are also in flux. Anaheim-based Southern California News Group recently made the decision to shutter its editorial operations at the Orange County Register’s former offices at the Axis office campus in Anaheim in favor of offering employees the choice of working from home or one of the group’s other Southern California offices.

SCNG is the publisher of the Register in addition to 10 other dailies and more than a dozen weekly newspapers covering Orange County, the Inland Empire, Long Beach and Los Angeles.

The Register, with a daily average circulation around 87,000, is the largest in the portfolio, which also includes the Press-Enterprise in Riverside and the Pasadena Star-News.

Last year proved a time of accelerated change amid a media landscape that has already been forced to lurch forward to keep up with the changing business.  

Here, the Business Journal checks in with Southern California News Group President and Publisher Ron Hasse on readership trends, the changing skill set required of reporters, digital and his outlook on the media business.

Many organizations are figuring out what’s best for their employees now as we navigate out of last year. Can you talk about the working situation for the Register’s newsroom, and if the choice to work from home is something permanent or temporary? 

Many Register journalists already worked in a remote environment prior to the pandemic. Our responsibilities are to professionally cover this unprecedented story while at the same time keeping our staff safe. So, we have been diligent about maintaining a mostly remote environment and our staff are overwhelmingly satisfied with the outcome.

Generally speaking, how would you characterize the state of your business at this time? Is it in growth mode, contracting or about even/flat with recent years?

The pandemic had a profound impact on our advertising revenues as retail outlets and events were shuttered or canceled. But we’ve seen progress in our digital advertising services and in our subscription performance, so we are encouraged that we are back on track and positioned well for the future.

Last year saw plenty of innovation on the digital front across industries. Did SCNG’s publications pilot or try anything new as it relates to digital last year? 

We focused on accelerating our content marketing services and launched a full-service content marketing agency called Skyline. Content marketing is a growing area of focus for businesses and brands as the importance of engagement and interaction through content and storytelling grows.

What were some of the learnings SCNG came away with as a result of last year’s challenges, as it relates to the business and also delivering the news? 

Readers want accurate and credible news. We take that responsibility seriously. We may not always be first to break a story but readers know that our reporting can be trusted. That means a lot these days—especially with so many outlets publishing news that is incorrect or intentionally misleading.

Further, as the pandemic unfolded, readers wanted a source they could rely on daily to provide pandemic updates that directly impacted them. Our coronavirus tracker was a first in the nation product that readers became dependent on and showed their appreciation with incredibly positive feedback.

Also, restaurant critic Brad A. Johnson pioneered COVID-comfort ratings that helped guide Orange County at a time when restaurant safety was vital.

Did you find digital subscriptions rose last year across SCNG’s publications? How do you see that trending this year and into the coming years? 

Digital subscriptions accelerated during the pandemic and print subscriptions remained stable. Our overall readership remains at record-level highs.

When it comes to digital vs. print subscriptions, how do you see that trending in the long run? 

Our print readers built the foundation for our local news reporting organizations and we intend to support them by providing a compelling and valuable product to them in return. While we expect digital subscriptions to continue to be the growth channel for the future, we appreciate that it is the journalism content that subscribers are paying for, not the specific platform in which they receive it.

So our focus is on providing excellence in journalism while maintaining best-in-class service to our subscribers regardless of their platform for reading.

How does SCNG think about younger readers and how it goes about attracting the next generation of readers to your publications? Does it require delivering news to them in different channels? 

Our younger readers are incredibly innovative and great seekers of information. Our goal continues to be to provide local news that matters and provide it on multiple platforms. Younger readers will continue to use emerging platforms to read and research, so our obligation is to make sure that our local news reporting stays on track with their reading preferences.

There was a recent article on Poynter about the need for more journalism courses in college that tackle the topic of audience engagement, and just how reporters and editors communicate in digital formats with readers once a story is published. Can you talk about how the Register and SCNG’s other publications are approaching that in their newsrooms? 

One of the biggest challenges for journalists these days is that the skill set required to be successful now goes well beyond being able to gather news and write gracefully—what we traditionally think of as the core skills of a reporter. Reporters today still do those things, but they also shoot photos and video, often on their phones, and they have a more direct relationship with readers on social media.

We’re constantly evolving in terms of the roles and assignments within our newsrooms. We also offer regular training to our staff to ensure their skills and abilities are current and that we keep up with the changing ways in which readers are receiving, reading and sharing news and information.

What are the opportunities and challenges facing the media industry today? 

The pandemic emphasized to people just how vital and essential local news is to their day-to-day lives. Our readership reached all-time highs during COVID because people were looking for timely, trustworthy information. With more readers than ever, we need to continue to connect with readers in new ways like social, digital and newsletters.

The Register has been the mainstay for Orange County news for over 115 years. We might look a little different today than we did back then, and that’s okay. We are positioning ourselves for a successful future delivering important local news where and how our readers want to receive it. 

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