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OC Register, Riverside Press-Enterprise To Be Sold To Digital First Media

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An attorney representing Freedom Communications, the parent company of the Orange County Register and Riverside Press-Enterprise, has said that the troubled legacy media company will be sold to Digital First Media, according to a story published on all nine of Digital First’s Southern California outlets. The bid is worth $52.3 million.

Freedom Communications is a bankrupted company, up on the chopping block since declaring Chapter 11 last November following a failed attempt by its former owner, Aaron Kushner, to inject a print daily newspaper into the L.A. media ecosystem. Kushner’s attempt, the L.A. Register, folded after five months.

Digital First’s bid is not the first one to be technically “accepted” by Freedom. Earlier this week, Freedom accepted $56 million cash bid from Tribune Publishing, the parent company of the L.A. Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Within hours, the U.S. Department of Justice stepped in and filed a civil lawsuit against the publisher, arguing that the deal would violate antitrust legislation. On Friday, a U.S. District Court Judge filed a temporary restraining order against Tribune, saying that the deal would have given Tribune a near monopoly over legacy media in Southern California, according to the L.A. Times.

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Reporting from KPCC points out that this is somewhat true. If Freedom’s deal with Tribune had moved forward, Tribune would hold the four largest daily newspapers in all of Southern California, and would employ a staff of approximately 1,000 journalists.

At the same time, Digital First Media owns nine different newspapers in the same area. The L.A. Daily News, Long Beach Press-Telegram, Torrance Daily Breeze, Pasadena Star-News, Whittier Daily News, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, San Bernardino Sun, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, and Redlands Daily Facts—each at one point in history an independently owned and operated daily newspaper providing serious, in depth local coverage—are all assets of Digital First. Nationally, Digital First Media owns 107 publications, including 30 daily papers in California alone.

The question, for those of us stressed about the future of journalism, is whether or not the DOJ will step in and block Digital First Media’s offer. While reporting from the L.A. Times says the government was not concerned about offers from Digital First Media or a group of investors lead by current the current Freedom CEO, the fact that Digital First already owns 107 other newspapers would, in theory, be enough to tip-off the antitrust regulators.