A Ruthless Ending for LA Weekly's Staff: Q&A with Gwynedd Stuart

The world of Los Angeles journalism and media was dealt a shocking blow when 9 out of LA Weekly's 13 editorial staff were abruptly fired. The timing came immediately following the purchase of the weekly print and web publication by an undisclosed company called Semanal Media, with just one identified manager, Brian Calle. We chatted with Gwynedd Stuart, Arts & Culture Editor at LA Weekly who was amongst those fired, to ask what happened, hear her and the team's feelings, and get a sense of what the future might be.

GDT: Did you know that this was coming in any way?

GS: We found out the sale was coming back in October. Ever since then, there’s been such a stunning, staggering lack of communication from the new company. Everything’s been dealt with in a pretty malicious way. So I didn’t have high hopes that much of the editorial staff would stick around.

GDT: What were you and staff able to learn about this new company?

GS: We learned nothing. They wouldn’t say who it was. We found out pretty immediately it was a new LLC called Semanal Media, but beyond that there was no information. Eventually we found out marijuana attorney David Welch was listed on the LLC. But we didn’t find out that Brian Calle was involved until an LA Times article came out where he was touting all his big plans to be so “creative and innovative”.

GDT: How did the firings actually go down?

GS: We had individual meetings. No one from Semanal was in the building yet. As soon as the sale went through, our previous owner VMG was responsible for dealing with all the firings. It seemed undignified that no one from the new company even knows who any of us are. From my understanding, all they requested from VMG was a list of employees and their job titles. I don’t think they cared or knew who they were laying off. Though I’m personally glad I didn’t have to meet those people because I don’t want to! It would not have been terribly pleasant for them to deliver the news. Instead it was a VMG employee and our editor Mara Shalhoup in the room, which was so big of Mara because she was canned too. After finding out she was fired, she had to sit there and be part of firing the rest of us one by one. And our publisher Matt Cooperstein, after being laid off, had to do the same on the business end.

I’m essentially third in command on editorial staff, so I felt vulnerable because I figured they may not want to have people in top editorial positions there anymore. But as I was standing in my office, cleaning stuff up, I’m seeing everyone come out one on one and give me the thumbs down, it was like… holy shit, it was a fresh shock each time. Each time someone would come out of the office and tell me they were canned, I thought, oh god, they really really went for it. The whole thing has been unpleasant from the get go. They really don’t know us and are not at all familiar with the work that we do.

GDT: It seems even ickier that a few select staff weren’t laid off...

GS: Well they kept our copy chief Lisa Horowitz, which makes a lot of sense. If they plan on publishing anything immediately, they need her. She knows how to put out the paper. They kept a few people in production, which could indicate they plan on continuing to put out a print publication. And they kept Hillel Aron, a news staff writer. I guess they figured they need a writer.

GDT: So you think there will be a paper next week?

GS: It’s confusing, I don’t know. This week’s paper is on the streets today, but not a lot for next week’s issue has been filed. We don’t know if they’re going to be moving forward with this skeleton staff or if they have a new staff starting immediately. It seems like Brian Calle has his big ideas and could have been secretly staffing up a paper this whole time. Or maybe they’ll have only a couple managing editors with lots of freelancers.

I really don’t know if the paper can survive this. I hope so, for the sake of all the great freelance writers who need an outlet to write for. LAist just closed, so there goes that. If there’s no LA Weekly…

GDT: Now that everyone is starting to know what happened, and our Facebook feeds are filled with “RIP LA Weekly” status updates, do you think there’s hope that LA Weekly could somehow recover from this?

GS: I think we’ll see as we learn more. I’m really hoping information starts trickling out. I mean, we have former coworkers in the office today. Once we know who these people really are, we can get a better idea of what they’re intentions are.

What we’re seeing happen everywhere is hostile takeovers of independent media, for nefarious reasons, to, frankly, destroy these things. I obviously hope that’s not the case. But, of course, I don’t think the paper is the same without the staff. We’re all represented in our editorial in such a positive way. Andy, our music editor, is so savvy and so hard-working. Our film critic (April Wolfe) was laid off, and she’s one of the top film critics in Los Angeles right now. She’s not replaceable. She’s up for Journalist of the Year at the LA Press Club Awards this Sunday. I’m also up for awards, Andy’s up for awards. We as staff are up for 20 awards total. I really don’t know if the paper can survive this. I hope so, for the sake of all the great freelance writers who need an outlet to write for. LAist just closed, so there goes that. If there’s no LA Weekly…

GDT: Have you been speaking with other fellow employees?

GS: Yeah, most of us stuck around yesterday after we all got the news. After everyone was ready to leave the building for the day, we went down to a bar down the street and commiserated. Everyone was shocked and upset, but I think, like me, people knew this was a possibility and had prepared in some way shape or form for the emotional difficulty of it. Then again, as much as that’s the case, though everyone felt vulnerable, I don’t know if anyone could have known the cuts would be this deep. The justification is just so… I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around it, that they would just eviscerate the staff like this.

GDT: Though we’re speaking only the day after this happened, is there anything you’re hoping Angelenos out there will do to help support you and the rest of the team?

GS: I’m hoping everyone who worked at LA Weekly lands on their feet and finds ways to get their voices out, hopefully in other LA-based organizations. So continuing to support local media is hugely important - there’s nothing more important than that. And it’s easy, and fun! Just read! These are interesting stories that people are telling, written by people who are deeply dedicated to keeping Angelenos abreast of what’s going on in our city. It’s just so important.

 A screenshot from LA Weekly today, capturing the questions staff and the rest of us are all asking about the newspaper's new buyers. (screenshot via  LA Weekly )

A screenshot from LA Weekly today, capturing the questions staff and the rest of us are all asking about the newspaper's new buyers.
(screenshot via LA Weekly)