Several small Orange County theaters were informed in April that the Orange County Register will no longer be reviewing their shows due to staff layoffs.
For venues like the Maverick Theater in Downtown Fullerton, the decision means its owner and founder, Brian Newell, will now take on a larger responsibility to inform the public about the production of his theater’s shows.
Freelance writer Eric Marchese had been covering small theaters across OC for over 20 years. Newell said Marchese informed him as well as the STAGEStheatre in Fullerton and the Chance Theater in Anaheim of looming OC Register cutbacks.
“He had kind of told us about a year or two ago that things were changing dramatically at the newspaper, and that it’s getting smaller and they’re cutting staff,” Newell said.
The Southern California News Group, which includes the Orange County Register and Los Angeles Daily News, started layoffs in January. The news group’s parent company, Digital First Media, is owned by Alden Global Capital, a New York hedge fund.
The OC Register has a circulation of 180,000 on Sunday and 80,000 for its Tuesday through Friday circulation, according to a 2017 report by the Alliance for Audited Media.
Newell said he doesn’t know what to expect going forward for his business, as a result of the cutbacks.
“I’m in uncharted territory. All those patrons are here primarily because they probably read a review in the Register at some point, so the existence of the Maverick definitely owes a lot, if not all, of its patronage to the publication,” Newell said.
Marchese, who started freelancing for the OC Register nearly 40 years ago, said in an email that it wasn’t his or his editor’s decision to stop reviewing smaller theaters in OC, but that it was the decision of Alden Global Capital.
“It’s a huge shame, and a huge loss to the community and those who love theater,” Marchese said in an email. “(Alden Global Capital) has been siphoning off millions of dollars in newspaper profits to pay off its bad investments. That has created a lack of resources for the Register and dozens of other papers owned by Digital First Media, forcing them to cut back on staffing and coverage.”
The OC Register’s decision to forego reviewing theaters by Digital First Media, the nation’s second-largest newspaper chain, comes amid a spate of cutbacks in Digital First Media-owned newsrooms such as the Denver Post.
Last week, Digital First Media’s censorship of an editorial by the Denver Post, criticizing Alden Global Capital, led to the resignation of editorial editor Chuck Plunkett, according to the Columbia Journalism Review.
The cuts are not only affecting journalism as a whole, but are also negatively affecting small businesses like Newell’s.
“This is a community theater. It survives from its ticket cost. If we had the advertising budget we would be advertising. We don’t. That’s why the press is such a critical part of our existence,” Newell said.
While Newell said he understands that older community members may have extra money to spend at the theater, college students don’t. To attract a younger audience, he offers college students $10 tickets for his shows and gears his productions toward the demographic.
“The visual and performing arts impact the culture and fabric of Orange County, and are vital to the community’s sense of identity and quality of life. While we are limited in the number of performances our newsroom can cover across the county, our commitment to covering the arts remains intact,” said Eric Morgan, director of communications at the Southern California News Group, in an email.