'Media Coverage' Part of Register Owners' Naming Rights Pitch

From The Voice of OC: 

The owners of Freedom Communications, the parent company of The Orange County Register, promised "media coverage" as part of their pitch to Anaheim officials to be the naming rights broker for high-profile properties owned by the city, according to a presentation obtained by Voice of OC through the California Public Records Act.

The presentation to city officials lists "media coverage" and "publicity/press" as "tangible benefits"companies could look to in determining the value of placing their names on publicly owned buildings.


“Freedom is the only major media company in Orange County,” read a slide from the "core competency: marketing" section of the presentation. It goes on to tout the Register as part of Freedom Communications' “unrivaled roster of OC-based marketing properties.”

(Click here to see the presentation.)

Read the full story here:



Odiferous: the Register’s ARTIC deal

The Register didn’t go very far out on a limb this morning when its lead editorial came out against the Bullet Train (outside paywall here: This train should not leave the station yet) considering the nearly universal opposition to it that’s growing throughout California.  A judge has not quite declared the project illegal due to its inability to be lawfully funded, and we’re still awaiting his decision on the more basic issue — is CAHSR’s current “blended” plan equivalent to what voters expected from Proposition 1A, that is, a non-stop 220mph train between Los Angeles and San Francisco with a 160 minute or less ride for under $100?

Curt Pringle

Curt Pringle

KFI’s John and Ken program yesterday interviewed Chris Reed, a U-T San Diego editorialist who’s followed this issue closely.  Reed explains the lack of merely $18 BILLION that Jerry Brown needs to complete the initial Merced <> Palmdale segment should prevent its moving forward.  Gone from the conversation is the notion that the Browndoggle was expected to find significant support from private sector investment.  John and Ken later did an excellent interview with Stuart Flashman, one of last week’s winning lawyers, later in the show here (17:45 in), explaining how CAHSR unlawfully ignored the stipulations of Prop. 1A.

Here’s what Reason Foundation had to say about the State’s lies a few years ago:



Columbia Journalism Review Criticizes OC Register Deal

From The Voice of OC: 

The Columbia Journalism Review, the nation's leading media watchdog publication, Monday criticized a deal struck by The Orange County Register's ownership with the city of Anaheim whereby the media company would be the city's corporate sponsorships broker on a controversial transportation hub, saying the business partnership is problematic.

Under the terms of the deal, revealed last week by Voice of OC, Register owner Freedom Communications would have the exclusive right for 12 months to solicit corporations regarding naming rights for the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center or ARTIC, a nearly $200-million structure that would house the city's train station, a letter of intent from the city states.

In order for the deal to take effect, the City Council must approve it.

The Review's assistant managing editor, Dean Starkman, lauded Freedom's new ownership for trying “the most interesting and important experiment in journalism right now” to revive print media by reinvesting in the newsroom, raising prices and implementing a strict pay wall for the Register's website.

But Starkman also took aim at Freedom co-owner and Register Publisher Aaron Kushner's argument that just as with traditional advertising arrangements, there will be a strict firewall between the newsroom and the business of securing naming rights for the transit building.

Starkman laid out four arguments:

  • This is not just any partner but the city, the main entity the Register is supposed to cover.
  • The 12-month deal provides the media company with a clear and ongoing disincentive to cover the transit center aggressively, and the project, still under construction, has already been controversial. That’s unusual.
  • Even if the transit hub’s construction and operation are scandal-free from now on, readers can never be sure the coverage was not compromised, because they’ll never know what the Register didn’t report. The appearance problem is a problem.
  • The Register has already been beaten once on this story. After the Voice of OC called them on Thursday about the deal with the city, the Register published its own story that night. Kushner told the Voice of OC his own paper didn’t write about the deal because “it doesn’t exist yet.”

This last bit sounds worse than it is, since the business side wouldn’t necessary share its pending deals with its newsroom, nor should it always be expected to. But still, the Register needs to lead on the coverage, and it’s already been caught flatfooted.


Anaheim Mayor criticizes 'unusual' proposal

Newspapers are supposed to report on cities. Under this deal, the paper would be working for the city.

Freedom Communications – which owns the Orange County Register – would have an exclusive contract to find a sponsor for Anaheim’s new transportation center.

Register owners

Register owners

“The paper’s supposed to be the watchdog on your government and keep things in check," said Tom Tait, Anaheim’s mayor.

He’s known about Freedom’s interest in representing the city for a few months. But he only learned Anaheim signed a letter of intent with the newspaper owner when he got a call from the Voice of OC.

Freedom wouldn’t be paid by the city until it found a sponsor. And the amount is unclear. Tait for one, will not support the arrangement when it is voted on by the city council.

“I don’t think it’s healthy when the local newspaper has a financial interest with the city,” he said.

Jeffrey Brody, a former OC Register reporter who’s now a journalism professor at Cal-State Fullerton, says he’s astounded by the proposal, which he says would violate basic journalism ethics.

“It’s quite unusual," he said. "I’ve never heard of another paper doing this. They’re putting profit over integrity.”

Brody said this proposal is especially concerning, because it comes after a deal with local universities that raised similar questions about newsroom autonomy.

A representative for the Orange County Register said publisher Aaron Kushner was traveling and couldn’t be reached for comment. Kushner has told his newspaper the deal wouldn’t affect editorial coverage of Anaheim.

“If you can't have a business relationship with someone you report on, then we wouldn't have any advertisers in the paper,” he told The Register.

At least one competitor was quick to criticize the proposal.

“We cover cities, we’re not brokers for them," said John Paton, CEO of Digital First Media, which runs the Long Beach Press-Telegram. "I think it speaks volumes about the lack of experience the team at the Orange County Register actually has in our business.”

The OC Register censors Save Anaheim while negotiating lucrative deal

From The Voice of OC: 

Freedom Communications, owner of the Orange County Register, is poised to strike a highly unusual partnership with the city of Anaheim whereby the media company would be the city's broker as it pursues corporate sponsorships for its controversial transportation hub project.

News of the deal has drawn criticism from Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait, and warnings from media ethics experts that the county's largest newspaper could be seen as an “agent of the government.”

Freedom Communications co-owner and OC Register publisher Aaron Kushner defended the deal as just a new twist to traditional advertising sponsorships and speaks to the media company's commitment to the region's future.

Freedom Communications would have the exclusive right for 12 months to solicit corporations for the opportunity to display their names on the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center (ARTIC), a massive dome that would house the city's train station, a letter of intent from the city states.

In order for the deal to be complete, the City Council must still approve it.

Register owner Aaron Kushner

Register owner Aaron Kushner

Kushner acknowledged that the company would receive a cut of the revenue from any sponsorship deal.

"Effectively, we are acting as an additional source of marketing muscle to try and bring private support to this project because our mission, we believe, is to help Orange County grow," Kushner said. "We believe this is an important project."

Media ethics experts reached for comment said they have never heard of such a deal and said it has the potential to damage the Register newsroom's credibility as it covers the ARTIC project, which has already proven to be controversial.

“It’s just a terrible spot to put them in,” said Al Tompkins, a senior faculty member at The Poynter Institute for Media Studies of the journalists assigned to cover the city and the project. “And the question really does become: are the finances of this type of deal worth the erosion of public confidence that comes with it?”

Marc Cooper, a USC journalism professor who has called foul on past Register controversies, was stunned when told of the deal.

“That's too unbelievable... I would classify this as mind-boggling,” Cooper said after taking a few seconds to collect his thoughts. “It really stretches the imagination.”

On June 20, the Register published an article about a new naming rights broker division and announced contracts with three entities.  The article did not say anything about a pending deal with Anaheim, even though the city's letter outlining terms of the deal is dated June 19.

When contacted Thursday evening by a Voice of OC reporter, Kushner said that the paper had yet to report on the deal because "it doesn't exist yet."

Then, later in the evening, the Register published a brief story on its website outlining the deal.

In his defense of the agreement, Kushner stressed that just like with advertisers; there will be a strict firewall between the coverage of ARTIC and the business side of the newspaper.

“We've basically at no cost -- frankly as a public service -- offered to help the city of Anaheim attract one or more major including national or international sponsor to help lower the taxpayer costs of building a great regional transportation hub,” Kushner said. “I don't think there's a single advertiser with us that we don't cover in some way.”

Tait, meanwhile, said the deal could compromise the newspaper's objectivity.

"Not only do I question the need for such an agreement, I have serious concerns about creating a financial partnership with our local newspaper, which also serves as a watchdog for the citizens over matters at City Hall.”

Cooper also said he disagrees with how Kushner defines public service.

"You don't become a booster of Orange County by becoming a partner with institutions of power," Cooper said. "As a newspaper you do it by making the county the most honest, most efficient, most accountable county in the country. And newspapers should be on the frontlines of that. That's the role of a newspaper. Not to be a PR agent.”

This is not the first controversial business move for Kushner since he bought the Register last June.

While gaining praise for adding 175 newsroom staffers and expanding its news content at a time when most papers have been cutting back on coverage, he's been hammered by critics for other business deals and what they say are efforts to appease the political establishment.

Voice of OC revealed in February that the Register changed its political ad policy after two Anaheim councilwomen complained to Register co-owner Eric Spitz earlier this year about ads from a local activist that criticized their votes for a controversial hotel subsidy.

In the wake of that controversy, Kushner raised eyebrows in the media industry when he told newsroom staff that journalists shouldn't abide by the long-held journalism credo of “afflicting the comfortable.”

Then in March, the Los Angeles Times revealed that the paper struck a deal whereby the county’s three main universities each pay the Register $275,000 per year for the paper to publish weekly news sections focused on positive happenings at the colleges.

The arrangement calls for the university’s public relations team to as “content advisors, idea generators and collaborators” on the inserts, according to an internal UC Irvine memo cited by the LA Times.

The Register’s top editor said the arrangement wouldn’t affect its coverage.

Kris Murray  

Kris Murray


Jason Young, the activist whose ads sparked complaint from the councilwomen, was also the first to uncover the letter of intent on the sponsorship deal. He said in an interview today that it is now clear why the Register responded the way it did to the pressure from the politicians.

“I knew something shady was going on, and here it is,” Young said. “Of course the Register is going to bow down to Kris [Murray] and Gail [Eastman] to curtail my first amendment rights, because they wanted this deal.”

Cooper said that the potential business relationship creates a conflict on several levels. First, it makes the Register appear as an agent of city government. Second, the newspaper's ownership has to have comfortable relationships with its host of major corporate contracts. Also, it places pressure on the reporters to offer favorable coverage to ARTIC.

Also, Cooper said transportation is one of the most important local issues a newspaper can focus on. Such a business partnership threatens the perception that the Register can objectively cover the transit hub.

“Maybe [ARTIC] is going to be wonderful I don't know, but I certainly won't trust the Orange County Register on it,” he said.

Although the ARTIC project is still in the middle of construction, it has already proven to be highly controversial.

In 2010, the county grand jury criticized officials for committing millions of dollars to ARTIC while cutting back on bus service for poor and disabled people. A later grand jury panel supported the project.

And when then-Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle sought $200 million in funds for ARTIC from the California High Speed Rail Authority – where Pringle served as board chair – the move was criticized for being set for a vote without any public hearings or application process to determine that it was the best use of public funds.

That ultimately sparked an investigation by the California Attorney General into whether Pringle had a conflict of interest in serving both as Anaheim’s mayor and chairman of the rail authority.


OC Register: 6 Days Without Afflicting the Comfortable

Orange County Register Publisher Aaron Kushner admonished his newsroom staff a week or so ago that their job was NOT to “afflict the comfortable” in their reporting. Today, Voice of OC reporter Adam Elmahrek provides us with the perspective of a leading ethicist on Anaheim Councilman JordanBrandman’s $24,000 Wiki-Report prepared for former Clerk Recorder Tom Daly. For clarification, Jordan is one of the “comfortable” that Kushner has vowed to protect in blocking both paid advertising and apparently news coverage from affliction.

Jordan Brandman

Jordan Brandman

In the Voice of OC Report (here) Elmahrek quotes Judy Nadler, senior fellow at the Santa Clara University Markkula Center for Applied Ethics:

“I have no idea how Orange County operates, but if I were presented with this as a public official, I would not be inclined to accept it as it is. Because its something that frankly a high school intern could have done, anyone could have done,” Nadler said. “I’m just really curious about what Orange County has as its standards. I’d be really surprised and disappointed to see if you could submit anything you want.”

As with the many real investigative stories that we get from Voice of OC, Elmahrek continues to deliver the drip-drip of damning revelations. For the OCRegister’s part, we are still waiting for them to even mention the fact that this story even exists, much less provide us with any in-depth investigative reporting that Kushner has promised his newly enhanced investigative news team would deliver. Rather than hold our breath and pass out while we wait for the Kushner’s forces to notice a news story, we have decided to implement our OCRegister Days Without Affliction counter:


OC Register - do you do your homework?

Today the OC Register finally reported on the resignations of 3 Anaheim Citizen Advisory Committee Members. It took the OC Register a whole two weeks until they finally got around to reporting this important matter. Unfortunately, OC Register reporter Art Marroquin, clearly didn't do his homework. Below you find the article with Save Anaheim's comments in bold:

Three members have resigned from a panel charged with charting the future of Anaheim's elections in hopes of increasing voter participation and engagement.

Peter Agarwal, David Diaz and Joseph Karaki stepped down from the 11-member Citizens Advisory Committee, formed last summer to study how City Council members should be elected to Orange County's most populous city.

Community activists Sandy Day and Keith Olesen were appointed by City Councilwoman Kris Murray to fill two of the vacancies. Newly elected council members Jordan Brandman and Lucille Kring will work together to find a replacement for Agarwal, appointed by former Councilman Harry Sidhu.

Keith Olesen peeking out from behind Kris Murray.

Keith Olesen peeking out from behind Kris Murray.

The trio of out-going members stepped down last month. The committee was formed after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit last June, calling on city leaders to carve Anaheim into a series of City Council districts as a way to ensure better representation of the city's burgeoning minority communities – particularly Latinos.

Art fails to mention that Anaheim is in violation of the CA Voters Rights Act which is why the suit was brought forward by the ACLU. Anaheim's former City Attorney Cristina Talley also agrees with the ACLU's assessment according to The Voice of OC. In addition Art fails to mention that Anaheim is the only city of it's size without district elections.

Such a move would require a successful ballot measure or a court order, moving Anaheim away from its longstanding practice of holding citywide "at large" elections for the mayor and for the City Council.

"In light of the lawsuit and the unrest last year, we understand changes need to be made somewhere, somehow," said Karaki, who stepped down because of increasing business commitments.

The unrest had nothing to do with the election process Mr. Karaki.

"How, what and where the changes are needed, I honestly don't know," Karaki said. "Maybe something good will come out of all this, and I hope the committee will be able to resolve it."

Losing three committee members within a few weeks of each other was an "uncanny coincidence," particularly considering the group is expected to release its findings in May, Murray said.

Day and Olesen applied to be part of the committee last summer and regularly attended meetings, even though they were not initially selected, Murray said.

I know for a fact that Sandy and Keith Olesen do not regularly attend these meetings.

Day declined to discuss what she would like to accomplish, but said in an email that it would be "disrespectful" and "damaging to our mission if we were to share individual opinions" before a final recommendation is made.

Art, if you had only googled Sandy Day or Keith Olesen you would have found that the both have publicly come out AGAINST districting. This has been reported by numerous blogs and news organizations. But instead of the facts you allow Sandy Day to lie and state that "it would be "disrespectful" and "damaging to our mission if we were to share individual opinions" before a final recommendation is made."

Here is Sandy Day stating she is against districting:

Agarwal, Diaz and Olesen did not respond to interview requests. "I know a lot of people think otherwise, but the creation of this committee is not a delay tactic" in deciding how to deal with Anaheim's elections, Murray said. "We need to make sure that our residents are engaged in deciding how and why a city the size of Anaheim needs to change the way it's governed."

The committee is a delay tactic. The CIty of Anaheim is in violation and will lose the lawsuit against the ACLU. Kris Murray simply wants to keep her stranglehold on the city so she can continue to waste our tax dollars on hotel subsidies, streetcars to shuttle Disney guests, etc. . . Would have been nice if you had spoken to Mayor Tait and got his take on Murray's sham committee.

Oh, and the total cost to taxpayers to fight this losing battle is $287,000 and counting.

Murray thinks Save Anaheim's ads are "distasteful"

From the OC Register:

A change in the Register's advertisement policy – prompted by complaints from Anaheim council members targeted by political ads – is attracting accusations of favoritism from one affected advertiser and raising eyebrows among some in the newspaper business.

But the Register's publisher said that while the need for the new policy was brought to light by the complaints, the decision was not made to benefit any individual or entity. Rather, the move to ban negative ads was made to better the paper, he said.

 "When we see opportunities to improve we do so swiftly, and we saw this as an area to improve," said Publisher Aaron Kushner, who led an investment group's purchase of the paper in July. Since the ownership change, the paper has undergone numerous changes, including large-scale redesigns and the addition of more than 70 journalists to the newsroom.

Some media professionals have criticized the move to block negative ads as vague and vulnerable to charges of favoritism.

"Blocking an entire category of ad – it can look like you're trying to suck up to somebody," said former newpaper editor Andrew Beaujon, who writes about media for The Poynter Institute. "But it's Kushner's paper. It's his right to make the rules."

Beaujon also noted potential issues with the absence of specific guidelines in the Register's new ad policy.

"Acting on a case-by-case basis can make it difficult to have a clear standard of ethics," he said, adding that a ban on negative and attack ads was unusual in the newspaper business.

The move has drawn criticism from Anaheim activist and blogger Jason Young, whose half-page ads in the Register's Anaheim community papers prompted the change.

His Dec. 20 ad said that Anaheim council members Kris Murray and Gail Eastman "Violated CA State Law" and cited a court ruling earlier in the month in which a $158-million subsidy to build two proposed luxury hotels was blocked.

The judge in the case ruled that the council had violated the open meeting law, the Brown Act, when it voted 3-2 to approve the subsidy in closed session. Murray and Eastman supported the subsidy.

"It's definitely censorship," Young said. "The Register runs adult-services ads, but they won't run our own truthful and accurate ads.

"I disagree with the characterization of these as personal-attack ads. These are informing the public of what's going on in the city of Anaheim."

Kushner pointed to the Register's editorial page as evidence that the paper was not taking political sides with Murray and Eastman.

Young acknowledged that the editorial page has shared his criticism of the hotel subsidies, of Murray and Eastman, and that it endorsed the opponents of Murray's and Eastman's allies in November's City Council races. But he maintained that the ad policy change was designed to benefit Murray and Eastman, two pro-Disneyland members on the council.

"Disney spends a lot of money on advertising in the Register," Young said. "The Register clearly has an interest in keeping Disney happy."

Carrie Nocella - Disney's resident wicked witch who's goal is not get those Ruby slippers but taxpayes funds to build Disney a $319 million streetcar to shuttle guests to the resort. This is distasteful.

Carrie Nocella - Disney's resident wicked witch who's goal is not get those Ruby slippers but taxpayes funds to build Disney a $319 million streetcar to shuttle guests to the resort. This is distasteful.

At press time, Kushner had not responded to Young's accusation regarding the paper's relationship with Disney. However, Murray said it was unjustified.

"The Register works with a number of large businesses citywide, including sports teams and hoteliers, and it's unfair to single out Disney," she said. She also took exception to the characterization that she broke state law.

The new Register ad policy reads, in part, "The Register pays particularly close attention to advocacy or opinion-based advertisements that could be construed as negative or attacking an individual or specific organization."

Presented with a list of 12 common subjects of political attacks – ranging from policy positions to criminal convictions to racial slurs – Kushner declined to enumerate which might violate the Register's policy.

"I don't think it's appropriate to answer hypotheticals," he responded in an email. "If we do have an issue, our first step will be to talk with the potential advertiser to help them make either less of an attack ad or less personal by name or hopefully both."

Asked about those, such as Beaujon, who say the policy is subjective and vulnerable to criticism of playing favorites, Kushner wrote, "Unfortunately any time something is regulated there is subjectivity – even in the judgment about whether and what to regulate."

Kris Murray said she and Gail Eastman had mentioned that they found Young's ads "distasteful" in a meeting with Register President Eric Spitz, but that they did not ask for any change and that she didn't learn of the new policy until a reporter called her this week.

OC Register is ok with ADULT SERVICES ads

As you know from our previous article, The OC Register enacted a new policy regarding political ads following complaints from Kris Murray and Gail Eastman. Specifically regarding the ad we ran in December 2012 featured below.

click to enlarge

Register owner Aaron Kushner acknowledged that the Register recently adjusted its policy regarding political advertising. He said, however, that the policy was changed because "we don't like negative political advertisements," not out of support for Anaheim's council majority.

So Kushner has a problem with factual political ads but is ok with his paper running this in the classifieds on 2-27-13?

click to enlage