On the end of journalism in Los Angeles.
LA Weekly was gutted last week, after the sale of the publication to a questionable consortium of right-wing real estate speculators called Semanal who are, in turn, backed by even more serious right wing goons. This hostile takeover follows the shuttering of LAist a few weeks prior by billionaire Joe Ricketts. Los Angeles is now at the forefront of this national trend of this ink-washing, a defunding and destroying of progressive and independent media outlets by hard right and tech libertarian ideologues. L.A. media historically has struggled to keep pace with U.S. cities with a more robust fourth estate. But now it’s on life support.
As someone who has contributed to both publications over the years, I can interpret this moment as nothing short of a journalistic state of emergency for the second largest city in the country, a city with a population larger than most states. We’re already experiencing the fallout of having an anemic local media: we have a mayor coasting on the weakest of support metrics, we’re experiencing a rising tide of fascism and hard right austerity on a local level, the city’s communities of color are being whitewashed overnight, homelessness and ICE raids are soaring, LAPD consistently is one of the most murderous departments in America, we have an Olympic bid thanks to zero local media polling, our infrastructure is crumbling, our school board flipped to charter control, and we’re entirely unprepared for a major earthquake or new drought.
The loss of LAist is huge. It picked up many stories that L.A. Times and the other traditional outlets in town missed. It was a small but dedicated newsroom that punched way outside its weight class. It was the counterbalance to much of our Boomer-driven reactionary media. Its political voices often skewed further left the typical liberal takes, and its cultural coverage complimented work at the Weekly. I still accidentally visit the website almost daily.
It will be missed, and, yet, the LA Weekly scenario might be far more dire. Brian Calle, author of an “endless screed of libertarian-slanted editorials” for the OC Register and former opinion editor of Southern California News Group, will likely be the ideological driver of this new 180 degree turn for the Weekly. Journalists have been having a field day digging into Calle’s past, uncovering evidence of his shameless intent to dismantle and undermine progressive media via corporate takeovers like some sort of provincial Peter Thiel knockoff.
The conversion of LA Weekly into what we can only imagine will be a right-wing outlet not only creates one terrifying new imprint, it takes one decent publication out of play as well — a net swing of two publications. While hardly perfect in recent years (see: the treatment of women by Art Tavana and Ben Westhoff) it was on point way more often than it wasn’t, which sadly can’t be said for most L.A. outlets.
The new Weekly brain trust is rounded out by several real estate developers and other capitalist barons from Orange County, with little to no journalism experience or apparent taste. They are banking on the possibility that most of the public either doesn’t know or doesn’t care about this complete transformation. They are trying to Trojan Horse an L.A. legacy brand and stuff it with all sorts of grotesque politics of the new austerity. Don’t let them.
Adding insult to injury, the new LA Weekly claimed on social media: “The only thing that needs to change here is a better and bigger focus on our community, the arts, music and all things that this amazing paper has stood for during the past 40 years.” This statement came after laying off the vast majority of its writing and editorial staff, longtime local reporters with strong ties to the politics and culture of the city. And the new Weekly, a for-profit business, is soliciting writers willing to work for free as “unpaid contributors.”
The new management has no interest in being straightforward in its intent or tactics. If it’s going to be an alt-right pro-free market rag, they should at least have the courage to do it openly, instead of trying to pass themselves off as an alt-weekly. The new Weekly will try to ideologically transform L.A. into the affluent parts of Orange County. It will attempt to foment an anti-regulation, anti-poor, anti-color culture in L.A. And if that’s not an L.A. you want to live in, then you should never pick up that Weekly while you’re waiting for an appointment, or click through when you’re killing time on your commute.
In fact, if you see a stack, you should probably throw it away. The content will be trash, after all.
Welcome to 2017 media in Los Angeles, where we’re full of great writers and editors but with too few local outlets to tell stories and deliver news. The corporate consolidation of media is nearing completion, and all of us non-millionaires will likely suffer unless independent journalism offers a counterweight.
The bad news is that corporate, anarcho-capitalist interests taking over media have money and power. The good news is that they don’t understand the communities they are trying to indoctrinate. While the new L.A. Weekly team claims to have a vested interest and a history in L.A., the people taking over the second largest publication in town can’t even spell “Angeleno” correctly. They’re dead in the water.
A boycott of their advertisers is underway as well, targeting the Weekly’s sponsors of its donation driven events. The boycott organizers have convinced a majority of the sponsors to pull out of next week’s “Sips & Sweets” event, forcing them to cancel the event entirely, leaving the Weekly looking like fools.
Because that’s what they are: fools. Any new regime who terminates a majority of its workers doesn’t understand that those ex-workers understand the business better than Brian Calle ever will. They know what works, where its flaws are (there are many), and where to apply pressure.
If you want to join the fight against Semenal, Brian Calle, and real estate developers cosplaying as media executives, follow Jeff Weiss’s twitter for action and boycott updates.
Pour one out for LA Weekly. This brand’s hopes — along with anyone’s foolish enough to still work for or with them — are officially dead on arrival.
Turn out tomorrow to protest the hostile takeover of LA Weekly — Friday, December 8, at 12 p.m., 3861 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City, CA, 90230