By Ken Doctor, Nieman Journalism Lab

Pity Aaron Kushner’s poor driving instructor. We can easily imagine the then-16-year-old’s driving inclinations as he first took the wheel. Heavy on the gas. Lightning quick on the brakes. The art of the teenage lurch. We’ve all been there — but few of us have gone on to own and run newspapers.

Now, a quarter century after those early driving days, the Orange County Register owner and publisher is displaying his latest errant skills behind the wheel. On Tuesday, the Register — not long ago a poster child for confident community news investment and a revival of targeted print — slashed and burned some more, raising new questions about its very viability in the year ahead.

The immediate news confirms that many of the warning signs of the last six months were very real:

  • A mandatory, company-wide, two-week furlough that employees must take before the end of July.
  • Buyout packages offered to as many as 100 newsroom employees. The package is less generous than the one offered in January, which saw a headcount cut of 30. It includes one week of pay for each year worked at the Register, to a maximum of 20, but no company-paid COBRA health care extension this time around. Journalists must make a decision on the offer by Monday evening, a few hours after a Kushner-led “Town Hall” meeting earlier in the afternoon. If the company doesn’t hit its targets, expect layoffs, with lower severance packages to be the standard.

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