Journalist Q&A: Ken Brusic, the Orange County Register

Ken Brusic, editor of the Orange County Register, talks to Virgil Dickson about how the newspaper has expanded its content output and increased circulation figures.

Describe the changes the paper has undergone.
I've been here 23 years and the biggest change is the expansion of content. It's also going from an advertising to a subscriber-based model.

What does that mean logistically?
When you're creating a newspaper for a subscriber, what you need is quality content. That is what this paper and its new owners are doing.

Many newspapers are cutting staff and news print. As a result they're providing less for their readers. We're reversing that model and hoping to build an audience that advertisers will want to reach.

As part of this strategy, you are hiring a lot. How many people have you brought on?
In an eight-month period, we brought on more than 100 people. As of June, more than 300 people have been hired across the organization and newsroom staff has increased by 70%. The physical size of the newspaper has also increased by 60%.

How does it feel to be hiring so many people?
It is great. There are a lot of wonderful people out on the job market. We also brought back some people we let go.

What are some of the initial offerings new staff are working on?
We launched a new faith and values section. It covers inspirational news, big-picture trends, features, and events. We have 800-plus religious institutions in Orange County that represent a wide range of denominations and beliefs.

We're extending coverage of high school sports to three days a week with a new weekly section called OCVarsity Playbook. We've got three new standalone weekly sections that focus on the University of California, Irvine, Chapman University, and California State University, Fullerton. The sections include features and stories on campus life, research projects, student and faculty achievement, and alumni impact in the region.

We've launched a new weekly fashion section. It's a 12- to 14-page section focusing on the latest seasonal collections for women and men, as well as fashion-related events and shops in the area.

To expand our coverage of entertainment we're starting a new 14-page arts section that will include coverage of dance, theater, and music.

Finally there's OCVarsity Arts, a section that covers high school students actively involved in theater, dance, music and visual arts, and highlights productions taking place at 116 high schools and arts organizations that feature teenage performers.

That is quite an extensive lineup.
This is not a brushing up on things. This is a wholesale remake, providing extreme value for subscribers.

We've also got some new magazines aimed at helping local businesses prosper. These include OC Register Magazine, which contains pieces on topics such as society, fashion, celebrities, fine dining, home tours, and travel. We've also rebranded OC Metro to OC Register Metro. It focuses on leaders in the area, including executives, entrepreneurs, and business pros.

Are these efforts bringing in new subscribers and advertisers?
The Register is now the 14th largest newspaper by circulation in the country, up from 20th in March 2012. As of March 2013, the Orange County Register saw a year-over-year increase in average daily circulation of about 27%, the largest percentage increase among the nation's 20 largest newspapers, as reported by the Alliance for Audited Media. 

Circulation revenue has been up every month in 2013 compared to prior year. The Register is up in every category of print advertising year over year as our advertisers respond positively to our investment in quality, just as subscribers have.  

You've started a paywall.
Expanding the quality of content means we're incurring an expense and we shouldn't be giving it away. We're charging the same for the print and digital subscription and not discounting the online product. 

Also, print subscriptions match digital access. So if you only get the Sunday edition, you're going to get a Sunday-only digital subscription.

What do you expect when you receive a pitch from a PR pro?
Our focus is very local. We tend to not care about things happening outside our area. We're a community newspaper. It's best to understand that.

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