“Who Owns L.A. Weekly?” That’s the question everyone is asking and the title of a post on the alternative weekly’s website. “The new owners of L.A. Weekly don’t want you to know who they are. They are hiding from you,” writes Keith Plocek, who teaches journalism at USC and worked for L.A. Weekly from 2011-2014.
L.A. Weekly was founded in 1978. After being put up for sale in January by Voice Media Group (VMG), the paper was bought in October by the mysterious Semanal Media Group, a company that didn’t exist until six weeks ago, when it formed specifically for the purchase of L.A. Weekly. (Semanal means weekly in Spanish.)
Since the deal, only one member of the group has been identified, David Welch, a L.A.-based attorney who represents members of the cannabis industry.
On Wednesday, after the deal was complete, the new owners fired nine of the paper’s 13 editorial staff members, retaining only one full time writer, a copy chief, a creative director and a music listing coordinator. Twenty of the estimated 40 staff members not part of the editorial team were also dismissed.
EaterLA noted the blow to the Los Angeles food scene with the firings. The publication most notably supported writer Jonathan Gold, who won the Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 2007, while he was writing for LA Weekly. The newspaper also helped foster the career of Amy Scattergood, currently the L.A. Times food editor.
A story in the Los Angeles Business Journalquotes ousted editor Mara Shalhoup on the purchase: “What I thought when you were buying a publication that was small in size of staff, but large in stature and reach, you were buying what the people (on staff) have to say, and the creative pursuit.”
Shalhoup also citing the critical loss of institutional knowledge that exits with the team.
Most troubling is the lack of transparency, both in the owners’ identities and potential interests, in an era when news outlets and journalistic integrity are under constant attack. With the firing of most of the staff and the veil protecting the new investors, the future of the weekly hangs in limbo.
For decades, alternative weeklies were the lifeblood of local cultural and political coverage, often breaking stories that impacted the national stage. But in recent years, these titles have faced the same hardships hitting many mainstream outlets.
VMG, once owner of the seminal Village Voice, which ran its last print edition in October before turning into a digital-only pub, sold off San Francisco’s SF Weekly in 2013 and OC Weekly in 2016. The group continues to run Phoenix New Times, Denver’s Westword, Miami New Times, the Dallas Observer and the Houston Press.
This isn't the first time a newspaper was purchased under mysterious circumstances. Two years ago, in December 2015, employees at the Las Vegas Review-Journal launched a Twitter campaign to uncover the newspaper's new financial backers. The publication was reportedly sold to News + Media Capital Group LLC, an unknown entity, for $140 million. The owner was later revealed as billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, a prominent donor to the Republican Party.