We Can’t Avert Our Eyes from the Implosion of LA Weekly

Or, the four biggest ways the new publishers have fucked up.

(Image: SF Weekly)

It’s a sad day for journalists, readers, and creatives when one of the last major alt-weeklies in the country turns into the sad old rag that LA Weekly has become.

Put up for sale in January by Voice Media, LA Weekly was bought by an odd conglomerate of millionaires — under the business name Semanal — whose identities remained a mystery for far too long. Today we still only know who half of them are, including conservative journalism fanboy Brian Calle, to “boutique hotel developer” Paul Makarechian.

The decades-old paper was quickly rocked by the sale. Former music columnist Jeff Weiss has been leading the charge on Twitter, offering daily and often hourly updates on just how bad the situation has become.

We’ve been watching the developments, too, from our offices 379 miles north of theirs. Here are the top offenses of the last four weeks that have made everyone in our newsroom go, “Wait. What?”

Firing its editorial staff
This one’s a no-brainer — and is definitely every reporters’ worst fear (and sadly, a frequent reality). It’s never a good idea to buy a paper, then fire nine of 13 editorial staff members. The great thing about reporters is they often come with massive social media followings — like former Editor-in-Chief Mara Shalhoup, who tweeted that the layoffs resembled the famous Red Wedding episode of Game of Thrones. (It was retweeted 697 times.)

Bruised egos aside, it’s fairly impossible to keep a paper running when you’ve just fired the vast majority of its staff. “I would find it very hard to know what to do in the next few days, given the amount of institutional knowledge that’s walking out the door,” Shalhoup told the L.A. Times.

That appears to be the case. A leaked email from a staffer showed the level of trauma LA Weekly is experiencing, with agenda items like “Management Roles: Who does what” listed.

Putting a call out for “contributors”
“Today, perhaps more than ever, we need media organizations, like L.A. Weekly, to become reinvigorated journalistic voices in the new media landscape,” Calle wrote in his takeover post. For the new LA Weekly, that appears to be unpaid contributors instead of the award-winning journalists who’d spent years working their way up the ranks to be the voices of Los Angeles’ culture scene. In a oh-so-ironic twist, the ad misspelled “Angelenos.”

Lost advertisers
As our friends at OC Weeklyreported,LA Weekly has lost a hefty number of advertisers since shit went down. The #BoycottLAWeekly campaign resulted in the loss of Amoeba Records’ sponsorship of the paper’s Sips and Sweets 2017 fundraising event. No fewer than 17 other bars, clubs, and vendors bailed, forcing Semanal to cancel the event altogether. In a Sleeping Giants-style mission, pissed-off readers have reached out to advertisers in a call to halt all relationship with LA Weekly. It’s sadly not a hard sell: Print advertising has been going the way of the dodo for years, with internet marketing skyrocketing as things like impressions and click-through rates can be tracked.

Lackluster coverage of a major disaster
Another downside of firing your talented editorial team in place of “contributors” is the plummeting quality of coverage. Ten days after a series of horrific fires broke out in Southern California, LA Weekly finally published a story on the issue. It has several bylines, zero original reporting, a Joan Didion quote, and cliched mentions of juice bars and vegan food.

It’s also heartless. After rambling on about a photo of a man riding a bike through the smoke, the new editor-in-chief hits readers with this phrase: “Unless your house or horse is on fire, most of us are just out here trying to live our lives, no matter what’s on fire. I love this city but I don’t like it when it’s burning.”

That’s a sad fate for a paper that once published such brilliant pieces of journalism as this one about the legalization of street tacos, or this profile on Ava DuVernay.

To be clear: We at SF Weekly are not enjoying LA Weekly‘s implosion one bit, just as we were shocked and horrified at SFist’s sudden demise in November. In a world where the alt-weekly is becoming a rarer and rarer beast — RIP, print edition of  The Village Voice — it’s comforting to know that there are other smart, edgy voices hitting newsstands to discuss culture, news, and food once a week. And alt-weeklies have always been a vital stepping stone for journalists — with large word counts, liberal editors, and a freedom to write “fuck” when and where you want to, there are few better places to sharpen one’s intellect and literary claws.

When staff and funding are slashed, there is one thing left that can hold a paper together: integrity. And out of all of the losses LA Weekly has suffered through this sale — the talented writers who will have to resort to crappy gigs to make ends meet for a while, the advertisers that financially held the paper together, and the stories that helped define L.A.’s culture scene — it’s that integrity we mourn the most.

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