Amid threats of a boycott and anger over their secretive and awkward transition, the new owners of the LA Weekly have sent out an apology statement to the readership.
“We have made numerous missteps in the transition of new leadership at L.A. Weekly,” said the letter from Semanal Media’s Brian Calle and David Welch, who have spearheaded what can only be described as a ham-handed first few weeks of owning the alternative publication. “We acknowledge it. We own it. We apologize for it. Our missteps have allowed rumor, conjecture, and misinformation to eclipse fact. False narratives have snowballed in part because we have not adequately provided our vision and plan for the Weekly’s future to the public.”
Along with the abject apology, the ownership team named Hillel Aron as the publication’s interim editor, responsible for all editorial content. Addressing concerns that conservative-leaning new ownership would marginalize the communities that the LA Weekly serves, the statement noted, “He will have complete independence and autonomy from the business side of the company. He’ll also create an Editorial Advisory Board made up of veteran progressive Angeleno journalists to ensure that the Weekly preserves its progressive voice.”
Problems in the transition began almost immediately with Semanal Media’s November purchase of the long-running publication. The members of the ownership group were not immediately identified, allowing rumors to flourish that the outlet’s long-running direction was changing. Then, in one of its first public moves, the ownership – a mix of businessmen and developers with little media backgrounds – then fired most of the LA Weekly editorial staff.
That fueled rumors that the publication would rely mostly on free contributions for its editorial content, a business plan enabled by the Huffington Post and other media outlets in recent years.
Calle and Welch insisted in their statement that the new ownership is comprised of “progressive, conservative, African American, Asian, Persian, Latino, Caucasian, gay, straight, and immigrant” representatives.
“We wish we could have saved the entire editorial staff, but the sad reality is that revenues have declined more than 50 percent over the past five years and the publication was going broke. The company wouldn’t have been able to afford all of its full-time employees and at the rate revenues were declining, the paper would have had to eventually lay off all employees and close its doors. We aren’t leaner because we want to be－it’s because we have to be. Unfortunately, this is an all-to-common theme in media today.”
Calle and Welchalso indicated that they would expand the freelance budget. “The reality is we will pay our writers and photographers. It is saddening to hear stories from freelancers who are threatened with professional damage or blacklisting if they continue to work with the Weekly. We understand that frustration exists, but attempting to tear down an institution like the L.A. Weekly in its 40th year only hurts our staff, those who write for the paper, and the community we serve.”