LA Weekly has been one of Los Angeles’ main alternative news sources since 1978, but a disturbing recent change in ownership and management has Angelenos concerned about the future of journalism in our city — and worried that LA Weekly may become a right-wing propaganda machine. LA Weekly was sold in November and immediately laid off all their editors and writers, save one. The new owners put out a statement looking for contributors to write articles for the site — for free. After 39 years, one of LA’s main news sources fired all their journalists and columnists and is asking for unpaid contributions.
LA Weekly’s new owners are a group called Semanal Media, LLC, which was created for the purpose of buying LA Weekly. Semanal Media mostly consists of investors out of Orange County with conservative backgrounds. David Welch is an attorney, Kevin Xu is an investor in biotech, Steve Mehr is an attorney, Paul Makarechian owns hotels, Mike Mugel is a real estate developer, Andy Bequer is an investor (when one’s sole job title means “having money” — must be nice) and new publisher/operations manager Brian Calle was formerly an opinion editor for the Orange County Register, as well as 10 other papers under the Southern California News Group. That many of the new owners are not from LA concerns locals — four of the five own businesses in Orange County, and Calle is still commuting from the OC. The LA Weekly statement looking for unpaid contributors even misspelled “Angelenos” (as Angelinos).
The gutting of LA Weekly is especially concerning in light of the full-scale assault on journalism currently underway in this country. Our President frequently uses the bully pulpit to single out individual journalists, papers, and news at large for ire and ridicule. LAist, another important source of local news, closed only a month before LA Weekly, after its billionaire owner decided to cease production. LAist was part of the Gothamist network of local news sites, along with DCist, SFist, DNAinfo, and several other related sites. The CEO of the Gothamist network, Joe Ricketts — who bought Gothamist in March — claimed the local news sites weren’t profitable. But many people, including the (now former) editor of LAist, Julia Wick, claim the shuttering was for political reasons, and that the sites had been profitable. Just a week before Gothamist was closed, its New York employees voted to unionize, against management’s wishes. Former Gothamist employees believe the shuttering wasn’t for profit-related reasons, but solely for the purpose of union busting.
Even greater than the issues of lack of local ownership, not paying writers, and an overall decline of local news, longtime readers and contributors of LA Weekly are concerned about the change in ideological bent. LA Weekly has long been a source of left-leaning commentary, and Los Angeles is a deeply blue city. Two of LA Weekly’s new owners have donated extensively to Republican campaigns and Calle served as Vice President of the Claremont Institute, a staunchly right-wing organization dedicated to “defeating progressivism.” What’s a better strategy to defeat progressivism and win the battle of ideas than buying a progressive newspaper, firing its writers, and start pumping your own propaganda through the paper’s networks?
Calle denies that LA Weekly will become a conservative rag. “I think it’s going to be even more progressive,” Calle told news site CityLab. “I have no intention, nor would I have ever agreed to be part of something, that was going to change the political bent. I think one of the dirty little secrets about Brian Calle is that I’m incredibly progressive socially….If we’re as nefarious and calculated as some people on social media suggest, the rollout would have been far more strategic and far more geared toward some insidious purpose.” So Calle’s argument is that Semanal can’t be evil, because if they were really evil, they would have been better at it (certainly untrue, if one simply glances at the Trump Administration). And his claims of secret progressivism ring hollow.
Before Calle worked for the Southern California News Group (which owns the Orange County Register), he was the editor in chief of CalWatchdog.com. Cal Watchdog claims to be a non-partisan organization that reports on California government. In actuality, it’s a far right-wing ideological organization. Reporter Spike Friedman, writing for progressive publication Knock, found multiple interviews Brian Calle conducted with right-wing figures where he asks easy, supportive questions and generally serves as a platform for the ideas of people such as Grover Norquist, Scott Walker, and Darrell Issa. Calle also published several pro-Trump and pro-Putin op-eds by actor Robert Davi in the Orange County Register before the 2016 election. Strangely enough, Calle knows Davi from when they both appeared in a Russian propaganda film, Black Rose, made by Czar Pictures, a self-described Russian propaganda production company.
In an interview with Press Play, Calle claims the new LA Weekly investors don’t care about profits — they’re performing a public service. In Calle’s words, they want every politician to be afraid of the LA Weekly. And remember — most of the politicians in Los Angeles are Democrats. So what “public service” do they plan on performing?
Is it possible that Semanal Media is made up of conservative investors who want to run a progressive newspaper as a public service, as Calle claims? I guess it’s possible, but it makes no sense. Is it possible a group of conservative investors bought a progressive newspaper in order to have a large platform in a major blue city through which to hound Democratic politicians and publish conservative propaganda? Of course — and it’s far more likely than a group of millionaire benefactors whose ideology has turned on a dime.
Former writers for LA Weekly are spearheading a boycott campaign, and protesters gathered in front of the LA Weekly offices to host a protest/funeral on December 8th, complete with a casket full of old issues of the paper.
— Alex (@kidalecks) December 8, 2017
The boycott caused so many advertisers to pull out of this month’s Sips & Sweets event put on by the Weekly that the event was canceled. The boycott against the Weekly, and the fight for independent journalism, continues. We must be careful to preserve local news and fight the influx of propaganda. Support local journalists. #BoycottLAWeekly.
Photo: Joe Wolf/Creative Commons