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Column: LA Weekly’s controversial publisher wants to revive OC Weekly. Should he?


The fluorescent lights had been vibrant and stark within the barren workplace close to John Wayne Airport in Irvine the place I met LA Weekly writer Brian Calle.

It felt like a morgue as a result of it was: Earlier than us was the corpse of my journalism previous.

Unfold out on the ground had been containers containing all the run of OC Weekly, the choice newspaper that shut down the day earlier than Thanksgiving in 2019 after 24 years of comforting the stricken and afflicting the snug in a area that certain wants it.

It’s the place I began my profession in 2000 as a freelancer with no earlier journalism expertise. I moved up inside the paper to turn out to be a reporter, meals critic, columnist, managing editor, podcast host and at last editor-in-chief till I resigned in 2017 slightly than lay off half the employees as then-owner Duncan McIntosh demanded.

Once I left, OC Weekly occupied a full warehouse and workplace house in Fountain Valley. We informed tales nobody else would and held events and festivals like nobody else may. The weathered containers had been all that was left of a once-proud operation.

Brian Calle has added the OC Weekly to a secure of publications that features the LA Weekly, the Village Voice, the Irvine Weekly and the Bay Space Marina Instances.

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Instances)

They now belong to Calle, who had invited me to speak about how he wished to carry it again from the useless — and assist him determine what was what.

We performed an impromptu sport of Whac-a-Mole: I noticed a canopy of a previous concern and instantly named the story behind it.

The one with an illustration of former Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona along with his spouse and woman buddy in a movie show? That’s after we celebrated his felony conviction on corruption costs uncovered due to our reporting. The attractive image of chilaquiles? Our chilaquiles concern, after all. Hitler giving a Sieg Heil salute with a bass strapped throughout his chest? After we outed an Anaheim nightclub that was holding secret neo-Nazis rock reveals.

“Wow, you actually know your stuff!” Calle stated, impressed. The praise didn’t sweeten the bitter tablet I now needed to swallow.

Once I left OC Weekly, I made my peace with what occurred. When it closed, my former colleagues and I mourned and moved on.

So why did somebody must attempt to carry it again?

And why did it must be him?

Calle made nationwide headlines — and never in a great way — when he and a bunch of buyers purchased LA Weekly in 2017 and summarily laid off almost everybody. OC Weekly had lengthy trashed the previous head of the Orange County Register’s editorial pages as a hack who one way or the other at all times failed up, and his buy of our former sister paper confirmed this.

Brian Calle is now the owner of OC Weekly

“There’s a void and a starvation for one thing totally different. The Weekly can quell that starvation,” Brian Calle stated, explaining why he purchased the OC Weekly.

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Instances)

He didn’t flip LA Weekly right into a right-wing rag like critics insisted he would. He did worse: It’s now a journalistic afterthought in regards to the dimension of a grocery store mailer.

My former OC Weekly colleagues, unsurprisingly, weren’t blissful after I informed them that Calle had purchased our beloved rag late final 12 months. Reactions ranged from “No” to “Hell no” to unprintable issues.

My emotions had been extra like Nick Schou’s, who succeeded me as editor-in-chief and stays an in depth buddy.

“Good on him for prying the paper’s barnacled stays from [McIntosh’s] grasping grip,” he informed me. “However will OC Weekly be higher off free of Davy Jones’ locker, solely to be added to Calle’s portfolio of as soon as highly effective but now skeletonized sister papers?”

I informed Calle that whereas I appreciated his intent, it was higher to go away OC Weekly buried within the cemetery of failed publications.

Calle, unflappable save for amusing that lands someplace between a scream and a pant, disagreed.

“There’s a void and a starvation for one thing totally different,” he stated. “The Weekly can quell that starvation.”

Sure, however why not begin one thing new? Or broaden his personal Irvine Weekly, which Calle began in 2018 in a weak-salsa try and pry advertisers away from OC Weekly and in whose workplace we had been speaking?

“I’ve a reverence for it,” he countered. “The Weekly would write the tales nobody else would. The Weekly was on the forefront of what OC grew to become.”

Along with LA Weekly and OC Weekly, Calle’s firm, Road Media, owns the legendary Village Voice — additionally shuttered, then revived — in New York Metropolis, 10 different neighborhood papers throughout the nation, and only in the near past acquired the ladies’s life-style journal Bust. He stated his mini-empire is “modestly worthwhile” however wouldn’t disclose numbers. With OC Weekly, he sees a possibility.

In a area with 3.1 million folks, one largely ignored by L.A. media and with few native information retailers, the closing of OC Weekly left a information gap nobody bothered to fill and a legacy persons are simply beginning to recognize. Once I began there, the Register and the L.A. Instances’ Orange County bureau employed a whole lot, with us because the foul-mouthed arriviste. The media wars had been fierce, and the county was higher for it.

At present, the Register is a husk of what it was, and The Instances offered its O.C. places of work way back. If Calle may channel even an iota of what OC Weekly as soon as was, I informed him, that will be a great factor. But when he introduced it again as a tragic parody of what it as soon as was, he’d be ridiculed — and I’d lead the jeers.

“Anybody who is aware of me says I’m a fixer,” he stated, waving me off from personnel recordsdata I stumbled throughout among the many archives. “And journalism has turn out to be my fixer challenge.”

Brian Calle goes through old issues of OC Weekly.

OC Weekly proprietor Brian Calle goes by containers holding outdated OC Weekly points within the Irvine Weekly workplace.

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Instances)

Norberto Santana Jr., writer of the Voice of OC, welcomed the attainable rebirth of OC Weekly, including, “The Weekly had a particular finger on the heartbeat on the county. It was a lot valued and far wanted.”

However he additionally warned that Calle has an enormous process forward.

“You’re not simply going to interchange any outdated factor,” Santana stated. “You’re going to interchange a band of reporters that made an indelible mark on the county. Can [Calle] meet that top mark?

“It’s like boxing. You may get in — anybody can — however are you able to final?”

Calle tried to purchase OC Weekly simply earlier than it shut down, one among many potential patrons circling the paper in its decline. He didn’t go for it then, he stated, due to the “tumult” after he acquired LA Weekly, which included advertisers pulling out, social-media shaming of people that continued to work for them and even a public funeral held by former staffers outdoors the paper’s places of work.

“If I purchased [OC Weekly] and made the modifications it wanted,” Calle stated, “I’d’ve gotten unfair backlash. I don’t thoughts it, however I didn’t want my crew to undergo that once more.”

He checked in with McIntosh, a ship present magnate who purchased OC Weekly in 2016, by the pandemic. They lastly made a deal in November. Calle wouldn’t disclose the acquisition value or phrases. The cellphone for McIntosh’s firm is disconnected, and McIntosh didn’t reply to an e-mail request for remark.

Todd Stauffer, supervisor of the Assn. of Various Newsmedia, stated a paper like OC Weekly in a market like Orange County nonetheless has an opportunity, even in an period when information organizations shut or lay off employees seemingly each week and the very concept of an alt-weekly is archaic.

“In case your metropolis or area wants somebody to carry the highly effective to account and dig deep into vital points, then your alt can thrive,” stated Stauffer, who co-founded the Jackson Free Press in Mississippi and continues to be concerned in neighborhood journalism within the Magnolia State. “Have some character. Combine it up. Get your readers concerned.”

Calle plans to relaunch OC Weekly slowly — only one full-time reporter, perhaps a couple of freelancers — then pitch its comeback to advertisers and develop from there. The aim is a every day on-line presence, quarterly points and reside occasions.

“On this sport, gradual and regular wins the race,” he stated. “I don’t consider in ‘Should you construct it, it should come.’ I consider in ‘Present me a test, and I’ll construct it.’”

So how are you going to get advertisers?

“I’ve been making an attempt to return again to Orange County for some time. I do know lots of people, nonetheless. I knew each participant in each business.”

Most of them hated OC Weekly, I replied.

He howled.

Calle intends to maintain the paper’s scabrous tone and is reaching out to potential writers, vowing to not import somebody from Los Angeles as a result of “the panorama right here is bizarre. … We have to discover the rabble-rouser, the go-to particular person in O.C.”

Then he checked out me.

“I’d attempt to get you to return again,” he stated, “however I do know you received’t.”

He’s proper.

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