December 6, 2017
Independent journalism takes another blow: LA Weekly’s new owners include real estate developers, lawyers, libertarians
by Alex Primiani
Well, well, well… the war against impartial reporting is alive and strong thanks to yet another attack on traditional media. This time it comes as the sale and editorial restructuring of LA Weekly, a story Lauren Raab has been covering at the LA Times.
On November 28, the paper’s erstwhile owner, Voice Media Group, completed its sale to a newly-minted concern called Semanal Media, which promptly fired nine of the magazine’s thirteen editorial staffers. That left the nearly forty-year-old paper with one remaining editor and absolutely no blueprint for how to move forward. In an interview with Madeleine Brand, host of KCRW’s “Press Play,” Raab is joined by former LA Weekly film critic April Wolfe, who points out that the nine firings were just enough to officially disband the union (the staff were a part of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers). In her reporting on the role of unionization, Raab has circulated Voice Media’s claim “that because Semanal is buying only LA Weekly’s assets, Semanal will not be bound by the union contract.”
The sale did not come as a total surprise—Voice Media announced the proposed sale in early January—but it all went down lightning fast, covered in a shroud of secrecy; the larger media community was left reeling after the lay-offs, with no information on who was behind Semanal Media. Last Friday, however, the members of the group were revealed by operations manager Brian Calle. He writes:
Our new ownership team is a patchwork of people who care about Los Angeles, care about the community and want to once again see an incredibly relevant, thriving L.A. Weekly with edge and grit that becomes the cultural center of the city.
The L.A. Weekly group is made up of several investors including Brian Calle, formerly of the Southern California News Group; David Welch, an L.A.-based attorney; Kevin Xu, a philanthropist and investor; Steve Mehr, an attorney and investor; Paul Makarechian, a boutique hotel developer; Mike Mugel, a real estate redeveloper; and Andy Bequer, a Southern California–based investor. And Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of UC Berkeley’s law school, also plans to invest.
Calle’s announcement cites the paper’s slowing revenue over the last few years and gives vague details about the future, briefly mentioning the possibility of shifting more resources to the internet: “I believe in the potential of LA Weekly to bring the powerful Los Angeles perspective to a new, broader audience. I am committed to keeping the Weekly alive as we transform from a newspaper with a website into a truly digital media outlet — which also happens to have a very cool print component.” (“Very cool print component”?! Get outta my face.)
Going back to who comprises Semanal Media: none of them have any experience running a paper — or maintaining a non-partisan agenda, by the way.
And Brian Calle? His previous job was as opinion editor at the Orange County Register, and describes himself as a “free-market enthusiast.” According to Nick Schou at OC Weekly, Calle has
written a seemingly endless screed of libertarian-slanted editorials, which, as is typical with libertarian politics, occasionally promote policies (like ending the prohibition of marijuana) that are completely reasonable and half of which are ideological tripe (charter schools will save our youth, etc.) But beyond that, and despite a dubious stint as a Chapman University journalism professor, he has almost no actual journalism experience, nor any connection whatsoever to Los Angeles.
Wolfe is tweeting extensively about all these new developments, and has discovered that Calle was also a former Claremont Institute VP, tweeting screenshots of Claremont’s mission statement: “The Claremont Institute has identified the principles that will be necessary to defeat progressivism. We teach the principles of the American Founding, and their application today, to the brightest young conservative men and women who will, with our help, go on to positions of power and influence in government, the courts, academia, and the media.” Wolfe offers her own reading: “It’s more about creating a ‘hip’ version of conservatism that can weaponize against Dems, masquerading as progressivism. It’s stealth alt-right.” Which, I mean… of fucking course.
All of this comes weeks after DNAinfo and Gothamist were unceremoniously shut down by union-busting multimillionaire Joe Ricketts, the New York Times’ own outlining of social media etiquette for their staffers, and perpetual cutbacks and print closures of Condé Nast magazines, like Teen Vogue. 2017 has seen the near destruction of ethical and independent journalism in America.
It’s like they’re just doing this right under our noses, right in front of our eyes and we can do nothing about it.
Alex Primiani is senior publicist at Melville House.