Dozens of laid-off and former LA Weekly staffers, freelancers, and supporters gathered outside the alt-weekly’s headquarters on Sepulveda Boulevard in Culver City on a recent Friday, vowing to take their newspaper back after a faceless holding company purchased it and abruptly fired almost the entire editorial staff a week earlier.
Standing on the sidewalk with a white coffin containing past issues of the second biggest news publication in Los Angeles, writers leading a movement to boycott the paper told a crowd of roughly 50 angry supporters at the noon rally that they hoped to convince advertisers to jump ship and compel the new owners to sell the paper to buyers who care about journalism. The gutting of the 40-year-old Weekly came shortly after the shuttering of local news site LAist along with a host of sister sites in major US cities by their billionaire owner after the writers voted to unionize.
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Amid public backlash over the sudden firing of its staff, the Weekly’s new owners finally made themselves known earlier this month. One wrote opinion pieces for the Orange County Register that Weekly writers described as conservative with a Libertarian bent—but otherwise none have backgrounds in journalism, which prompted questions about their motives and competence. As major wildfires broke out in Southern California including one on LA’s Westside, the LA Weekly had no fire coverage.
“Just sell the paper, man. Just sell it. It’s done. You’re finished. Go home. Orange County’s nice,” former LA Weekly columnist Jeff Weiss told the crowd on Friday, drawing cheers and laughter. “We just want a newspaper. We want to be writers. We want to be journalists. LA is burning. This whole fucking city is burning right now. They couldn’t even tweet about it, to tell people where to evacuate.”
“LA is burning. This whole fucking city is burning right now. They couldn’t even tweet about it.”
The former writers slammed the all-male ownership group for firing a predominantly-female staff and voiced suspicions that, as the buyers are donors to right-wing politicians and causes, the Weekly purchase was an effort to “invade” LA with a point of view that is out of step with the city.
“Not only have they marched in here and insulted the writers and the journalists and all the freelancers involved in this paper and the goodwill that has been fostered for 40 years, they have insulted you by thinking they could fool you,” says now-former music writer Katie Bain, wearing a T-shirt that read “Writers vs. Everyone.” ”Don’t forget that. They’re going to do their best to get their shit together and maybe they will, or maybe it will look like they will. Don’t forget this. Don’t forget what has happened. You cannot trust these men.”
In a now-deleted tweet, the new owners appeared to ask for unpaid submissions and misspelled the word “Angeleno.” The print edition Thursday was anemic, made up of stories that had been assigned and edited before the lay-offs. Although the Weekly announced staffer Hillel Aron would be taking over as editor, no one seemed confident in its future on Friday.
“I do think they have an agenda that is not in line with the values that LA Weekly has always had, but I think whatever it is they’re trying to do, they’re executing it very poorly,” says now-former food editor Katherine Spiers. If the paper was functional she already knows how it would be covering the wildfires, she adds: “If we were at full capacity, (reporter) Dennis Romero would be making phone calls, (reporter) Jason McGahan would be out there at the site of the fires. That’s the way newspapers work. Even for the food section, we would have been writing about the fact that (chef) Jose Andres is bringing his relief efforts to Los Angeles like he did in Puerto Rico.”
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“It kind of wraps itself up into this trend of not just alt-weeklies but local papers dissolving and being sold to people who don’t care about the city or don’t care about about the mission of journalism,” Suskind says. “It’s terrible for the journalists who get fired, but it’s really terrible for the communities as well. A lot of these local papers speak truth to power. They hold the powerful accountable. If you don’t have that, who is going to be out there calling attention to corruption?”
But Weiss is determined not to let the LA Weekly go down quietly. He’s convinced the writer-driven boycott can make the purchase so unprofitable that the new owners will sell.
“This is a winnable war,” he told the crowd. “They are counting on us to give up. I promise you that we will win because I’m crazier than they are. You guys care more than everyone else does and we will win this shit. I will never stop.”
Correction: This story previously stated there was no print edition last week.Bethania Palma is a journalist from the Los Angeles area and staffer for the fact-checking organization Snopes.com.