Where can a news consumer in L.A. go these days for trustworthy, up-to-date, and comprehensive news and cultural coverage that matters to local residents?
The answer contains fewer and fewer options after a messy month in the dwindling ranks of the free press in Los Angeles. Here’s a run-down of what’s happened in recent months and weeks in Southern California news media:
Local-obsessed site LAist abruptly shut down on November 2. The staff found out they had lost their jobs when that afternoon the site stopped loading and was replaced with a message from Joe Ricketts, owner of the Gothamist and DNAinfo site network.
He more or less decided to shut down all the sites after its New York employees voted to bargain collectively as a union, sending a chilling message to frazzled newsrooms across the country. The retaliation against the unionization effort left 115 people jobless across the sites.
A similar scenario is brewing at the L.A. Times, although so far, its reporters haven’t been fired en masse for it.
Los Angeles Times
The Times, a daily newspaper with more than 130 years of a heavily anti-union history, is experiencing an internal struggle over the newsroom’s drive to unionize. It’s amazing that it took this long: the paper’s staff have been in a funk for nearly a decade, bleeding talent with constant turn-over and poor management.
Budgetary cutbacks, layoffs, declining revenue, and a general malaise have reigned under a parade of corporate out-of-towners as bosses. Yet the newsroom, battered and bruised, is still able to produce award-winning journalism.
The announcement of a rogue “Los Angeles Times Guild” in May was met with immediate discouragement from the paper’s management, Chicago-based corporation Tronc (formerly part of the Tribune Company). The newsroom is now littered with signs of support for the union efforts on workers’ desks.
On Monday, the LAT Guild said it had collected enough signatures to request an up-or-down vote on unionization for newsroom employees to be certified by the National Labor Relations Board.
Its announcement also asked that Tronc management formally recognize the union, since they already have enough authorization cards to ensure the vote will succeed in collective bargaining’s favor.
If the biggest newspaper in the West joins the NewsGuild-CWA union, it would be disastrous from a management point-of-view at struggling Tronc. The company now has a website arguing against the union drive, but it doesn’t appear the employees are backing down. They keep pointing out the corporate leaders’ extravagant expenses, like those private jets, a bold move for a group of journalists at a paper that was once so anti-union it was bombed for it.
Things are even worse at the LA Weekly. In mid-October the venerable alternative paper was bought up by a mysterious investment group calling itself Semanal Media. The new owners were subsequently identified and tagged as a raiding group of free-market libertarians from Orange County led by Brian Calle (pictured above).
Last Wednesday, the new owners fired all the Weekly’s editors and staff writers except for one. “We were expecting some pain with the sale of @LAWeekly,” tweeted former editor in chief Mara Shalhoup. “But we weren’t expecting the Red Wedding. That’s how deep the cuts are.”
Calle is the most recent opinion editor of the Southern California News Group and its 11 newspapers, including the Orange County Register, the Pasadena Star-News, the Long Beach Press-Telegram, and the Daily News. He is a standard California-style libertarian op-ed writer, and is linked with conservative think tank the Claremont Institute, among other things that don’t seem very L.A.-suited at all.
Other investors were outed by the L.A. Times as definitely tone-deaf, to put it softly.
The resulting uproar over the future of the paper has led some to call for a boycott of the Weekly. Proponents are encouraging business clients and advertisers to stop working with the Weekly’s new owners, and apparently, they’re already feeling the hit.
A leaked email from inside the Weekly features items on the agenda for a recent emergency conference-room meeting: “Advertisers pulling” …“Why everyone saw this coming except you.”
For April Wolfe, one of the full-time staffers who were laid off with little notice last week, the LA Weekly and its demands were not just a job, they were “a life.” Wolfe’s official title was film critic, yet for the Weekly, she reported long-form features, moderated panels, and participated actively with all other staffers at the Weekly’s large — and lucrative — external events.
“There’s not a whole lot of hard feelings to journalism because we all know the game, but this is much bigger than our jobs or our colleagues’ jobs,” Wolfe told L.A. TACO on Tuesday. “When it comes to local media, those who are identified as liberal have been very slow to understand that people who don’t have the best intentions are buying up our local media organizations.”
“We’re so caught up in what’s going on globally,” Wolfe said.
Let’s not forget what occurred some weeks ago at the OC Weekly. Gustavo Arellano, the trailblazing journalist and columnist, was laid off by his paper’s newish owner after the editor declined to cut back his staff in half. Arellano offered to sell ads himself, as well as cut his own salary, to prevent cutbacks to the staff by publisher Duncan McIntosh.
Gustavo was told his offer to resign instead of making cuts was accepted, in a meeting that lasted minutes, on October 13, a Friday.
“I had to take a stand for my employees,” Arellano said on KCRW later that day. “If Duncan’s listening, please don’t lay off anyone. You got rid of me, and that should suffice.”
All of this makes you wonder — if you’re inclined to — if something else is going on here. Why have a string of independently minded editorial platforms in Southern California gone silent or face epic threats this year?
We’re sure wondering about this at L.A. TACO.