Free press advocates and LA Weekly staffers are demanding that the mysterious company that bought the news organization and gutted most of its staff reveal its identity.
Semanal LLC, the secretive buyer that formed for the sole purpose of purchasing LA Weekly last month, closed on the sale Wednesday and promptly laid off nine of the 13 members of the alternative weekly’s editorial staff, sending shock waves across an industry already rattled by unexpected reductions and closures.
On Thursday, the Society of Professional Journalists condemned Semanal’s continued anonymity.
“In an era of rampant misinformation and distrust, it’s especially important that we do not allow the owners and backers of news organizations to remain a mystery,” said SPJ ethics committee chairperson Andrew Seaman. “We cannot allow this to become the norm.”
LA Weekly, which has been in operation in Los Angeles for about 40 years, also posted a story on its site urging readers to question its new ownership.
“The new owners of L.A. Weekly don’t want you to know who they are,” wrote contributor Keith Plocek, a lecturer at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. “They are hiding from you. They’ve got big black bags with question marks covering their big bald heads.”
The cuts leave LA Weekly with just one staff writer. A number of the employees laid off on Wednesday tweeted bleak goodbyes.
Digs into Semanal have turned up limited information. David Welch, a lawyer known in Southern California for suing unlicensed cannabis dispensaries, is listed as the registered agent in the California Secretary of State Business Database, according to LA Weekly’s sister site OC Weekly. Brian Calle, chief opinion writer for Southern California News Group, will take over editorial management of the site, the outlet also confirmed.
Last year, OC Weekly named Calle one of “Orange County’s Scariest People of 2016,” pointing to his role in a number of blunders at his previous post.
It’s been a trying month for local news. Earlier this month, Joe Ricketts, the billionaire CEO of news organizations DNAinfo, Gothamist and its sister sites, shut down the sites without warning just days after a number of staff members announced they had formed a union. The decision put 115 journalists out of work left a gaping hole in coverage in the cities those outlets covered: New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington.