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Inside the fight between LA Weekly’s past and present

A composite image of several LA Weekly covers
A composite image of several LA Weekly covers
Flickr user Movies in LA (Creative Commons)

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When Semanal Media bought LA Weekly last year, most of the paper's editorial staff were let go. Emotions ran high, and a group opposing the new ownership quickly formed, calling itself "Boycott LA Weekly."

This week the alt-weekly launched its own campaign, called "#Speaktruth," defending the paper and its new ownership. Last month, the Weekly canceled their food event, The Essentials, just two days before it was scheduled to take place. The event was cancelled because, after being pressured by the Boycott LA Weekly supporters, restaurants that were going to participate were dropping out.

The Boycott group has also been encouraging advertisers and businesses to withdraw their support from the LA Weekly and its events.

Brian Calle, the current CEO and publisher of LA Weekly, said this pressure was the reason the #Speaktruth campaign was started.

The straw that broke the camel's back was that many of my partners in the community, like the restaurants, felt that they were being bullied and threatened. Freelance writers felt that they were being bullied and threatened. I just said enough is enough, this is not acceptable.

The #Speaktruth site says, "A small but aggressive and deceitful group of bullies is using harassment and intimidation to spread lies about LA Weekly. They are intent on limiting free speech and attempting to shutter our publication." 

Haley Potiker, who is part of the Boycott group, said those allegations are unfair.

To call us bullies is just so cynical and manipulative. What a boycott really is is free speech in action... The real attack on free speech is the dismantling of a local news source that Angelenos have relied on for decades.  

The Boycott LA Weekly movement started as a response to the firing of many of the editorial staff and the secrecy surrounding the paper's new owners just after the buyout, Potiker said. But once the owners were revealed, the boycott group's concerns grew because of the owners conservative ties, she said.

At first we were very hesitant to support this new group who seemed to be a part of a wave of media takeovers across the United States, and who also had let go a lot of the journalists who we trusted to accurately cover the news.

One of Calle's previous positions was Vice President of the conservative think tank, the Claremont Institute, and the L.A. Times reported two of the new owners had donated heavily to Republican campaigns.

However, Calle said some of the things being said about the new LA Weekly owners, simply are not true.

There's been credible journalists... who've said, 'I can't believe that this is an all-white, all-heterosexual group of men that bought the LA Weekly.' That narrative is false. I'm half-Latino, I'm also gay so obviously we're not all white, we're not all heterosexual, one of our investors is African- American, one of our investors is Asian- American. They also want to paint us all as Trump supporters. Of the investment group I think one or two supported Trump, the rest of us did not.

As for the staff that was let go, Calle said that was a purely financial decision; staff were let go because the paper could not afford to keep them, not because of the quality of their work or their views. Calle also said that in revealing all the owners just after the Weekly's sale, the paper was actually being much more transparent than other publications, which often choose to keep some investors secret.

But could things have gone more smoothly? Calle said, yes, of course.

Would I have done some things differently? Yeah, I most certainly would've done things differently...We would've had a greater public relations and communications campaign leading up the takeover just so that people felt a little more comfortable with who everyone was.

This fight is not just about the way the sale was handled, however. Potiker said it's about the changes that readers like her have seen in the LA Weekly under the new ownership.

There were special elections in three districts in L.A. County two days ago. They did not cover that. I.C.E. raids have been happening all over the city, and hundreds of folks have been deported. They haven't reported on that at all. When a fire was threatening to burn down our city, they didn't say anything about it until maybe a week later when they posted an opinion piece about how that fire made one of the writers feel.

Calle said anyone who doubts his skills in a newsroom, or those of his staff, only has to look at their track records. Calle was previously opinion editor of the Southern California News Group, which includes the Orange County Register and the Los Angeles Daily News, and he has worked on radio and television news programs.

LA Weekly now is as strong as ever, Calle said, pointing out the paper recently broke stories about sexual harassment allegations in the Lynwood city government.

For Potiker and the Boycott group, the goal of their efforts is to be an example of how frustrated readers can try to take control of their local publications.

This takeover of the LA Weekly is part of a pattern that's playing out across the country and what we really want to do is build a model of effective organizing that other city's can follow and [start] to envision the future of what an alt-weekly could look like and should look like.

Calle said he understands concerns that Angelenos might have about the state of local, and national media, but that doesn't mean that he and the LA Weekly are to blame.

There's been a lot of tumult in media nationwide, and I understand people are upset. I understand there's resentment about the state of media in our city, and in our community and in our nation, but I didn't create the problems that journalism is facing. I didn't create the budgetary issues at the LA Weekly. I'm just trying to fix them because I want a strong LA Weekly that does what it's always done best.

We can't say where this fight will take the LA Weekly, but the paper is getting ready for another transition as its offices move from Culver City to downtown L.A.