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Gazette's new owner optimistic about the future of newspapers

July 27, 2012

The Gazette’s new owner is bullish on newspapers, despite their loss of readers and advertisers to the Internet and struggling through one of the worst economies in generations.

“At the end of the day, there is a core, loyal group of subscribers who support these institutions, depend upon these institutions,” said Massachusetts businessman Aaron Kushner, whose 2100 Trust, LLC, completed its purchase this week of The Gazette and parent company Freedom Communications. “And we believe, and I believe from a business perspective, there is strength in that foundation and we hope to build upon that foundation.”

Kushner, 39, a former chief executive of a greeting card company, heads 2100 Trust, which unsuccessfully sought to buy The Boston Globe last year. On Wednesday, 2100 Trust took control of Freedom; terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

Freedom had been family owned for decades, once operating more than 100 daily and weekly publications and broadcast properties. But in 2009, it sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Freedom emerged from Chapter 11 the next year and eventually was sold piecemeal fashion by its creditors. The last sale included The Gazette, the flagship Orange County Register in California, five smaller California and Arizona papers and their non-daily publications, specialty publications and digital properties.

Kushner will serve as CEO of Freedom, whose name remains unchanged. In an interview Friday, Kushner talked about the paper’s future and other topics.

On why 2100 Trust bought Freedom: “They’re great institutions. Really healthy businesses from a business perspective and in terms of we felt the place they had in their communities, each of the newspapers individually, we really like the feel and the role and the importance that each institution has in their communities.”

On whether he plans changes at The Gazette: “The short answer is, most certainly not, in terms of anything that would diminish its role. What we really are focused how can we help support each of the papers, how can we help support The Gazette being even more important and having even more of a role in the lives of its subscribers and Colorado Springs.”

On whether the newspaper’s libertarian editorial philosophy would change: The Gazette has a rich history, he said, and “we respect that history. We like The Gazette and wanted to buy it. No particular changes are planned that way, other than whatever we can do to help strengthen the institution.”

On reports that 2100 Trust plans to re-sell The Gazette and smaller papers in California and Arizona: “Our plan with regards to The Gazette is relatively straight-forward. We love The Gazette and frankly we really value and appreciate all of the Pacific group papers as well. We wouldn’t have bought the papers if we didn’t think that they were important, valuable, healthy institutions, and they are. We are going to engage in a strategic and thoughtful process with respect to The Gazette and the Pacific group papers about how do we best serve those communities. If it is through our long-term ownership of them, that’s wonderful and obviously we wouldn’t have bought them if we didn’t think they were fabulous franchises. They are. It may also be that there is an owner for The Gazette who can do an even better job than we can...But we feel very strongly that The Gazette is a very important part of the Freedom newspaper group today, and we’ll do everything we can to strengthen it and see it continue to be successful.”

On future staffing at The Gazette: “Our first objective is to make sure we understand all of the nuances of each of the newspapers and what we do strengthens them. So there are certainly no cuts planned anywhere particularly. Does that mean we’re not going to be very actively evaluating the cost structures of each newspaper? We most certainly will be evaluating both how we grow and strengthen revenue and how we do our jobs more cost effectively. But there are no employee changes planned.”

On whether a Massachusetts background brings with it a liberal point-of-view, as a reader wondered: “We did not buy the Colorado Springs Gazette to change its political opinions (laughs). It happens in Massachusetts that there are liberal Democrats, and there are also plenty of independents and plenty of Republicans. Inherently, just because someone is from Massachusetts does not speak to their political sense...As I have mentioned in terms of the history and the politics of The Gazette, we did not buy The Gazette to change that."

On a magazine profile that suggested he had a formula to revive newspapers: “I do not think there is any magic formula. At the end of it, we have a business philosophy based upon finding ways to provide subscribers more value over time. And we believe very strongly that if we are focusing our energies as owners of newspapers on our subscribers and our communities, that’s the foundation upon which the future of our particular newspapers are going to be built.”

On whether newspaper fortunes can be reversed: “There is a path which some are taking which says we are going to keep cutting. I personally don’t see how that ever leads to success and certainly don’t see how it leads to winning. We are here to win, and the only way I know that we’re going to do that is by finding ways to grow these institutions and businesses. Does that mean we can’t and don’t have to really pay attention to the cost structure? Of course we do...I believe the foundation is a very strong one in Colorado Springs and that we can achieve what we hope to achieve there. I personally am an optimist. I think that Colorado Springs and the rest of the Freedom newspapers are in a very good spot to be successful.”

Contact Rich Laden: 636-0228 Twitter @richladen

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