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L.A. Weekly Slashes Staff, Laying Off Film Critic April Wolfe and Others

Ahead of its 40th birthday, the free alternative newspaper was just purchased by Semanal Media, whose identity remains a mystery.

Screen shot from a story that appeared on L.A. Weekly’s website hours after nine people were fired from the editorial staff

UPDATED (December 1): L.A. Weekly’s new operations manager, Brian Calle, revealed in a post on the paper’s website that he and six additional investors — attorneys Steve Mehr and David Welch, philanthropist Kevin Xu, hotel developer Paul Makarechian, real estate developer Mike Mugel, and Andy Bequer — presently comprise Semanal Media

Nearly 70 percent of L.A. Weekly’s editorial staff — including film critic April Wolfe — was laid off on November 29, the day the beloved alternative newspaper was officially purchased by Semanal Media. The Los Angeles Times reported nine members from the 13-person editorial team were dismissed, among them all top editors (even editor-in-chief Mara Shalhoup); publisher Matt Cooperstein was also terminated. On Twitter, Shalhoup likened the layoff to a “Game of Thrones” bloodbath.

The impending sale was confirmed on October 18 by the LA Times, which dubbed the now-owner “a mysterious new company” in its headline. Semanal Media was formed explicitly to buy L.A. Weekly from dwindling Voice Media, the publishing entity that has unloaded S.F. Weekly, O.C. Weekly, and The Village Voice in recent years. Who owns Semanal Media and where it is headquartered remain kept secrets.

Read More: Film Critic Karina Longworth Leaves the L.A. Weekly

Former L.A. Weekly staffers began lamenting and soliciting new job opportunities on social media last night. A few minutes before 11 p.m., Keith Plocek — the paper’s web editor back in 2011, now a lecturer at the University of Southern California — posted a short manifesto on L.A. Weekly’s website called, “Who Owns L.A. Weekly?” The missive is expected to be imminently deleted, but as of press time, it was still online, reading:

Who owns the publication you’re reading right now?

It’s a question you should ask no matter what you’re reading. In Latin there’s a phrase cui bono, which roughly translates as “who is benefiting?” It’s a good idea to know who is profiting in any situation. Why? So you can make educated decisions.

The new owners of LA Weekly don’t want you to know who they are. They are hiding from you. They’ve got big black bags with question marks covering their big bald heads.

These new owners just laid off nine hardworking journalists. Why? For sport? To start anew? To fulfill a blood vendetta that is centuries old?

Maybe they have a good reason. Maybe they don’t.

We don’t know. You don’t know. No one knows but them.

Who owns this publication?

Seminal Media brought in Brian Calle to manage L.A. Weekly’s operations. Three weeks ago, after speaking with Calle, Los Angeles Times reporter Lauren Raab relayed Calle’s claim that “the new ownership and management would not change L.A. Weekly’s editorial bent.” LA Times restaurant critic Jonathan Gold — who won a Pulitzer Prize during his 30 years working at L.A. Weekly, and starred in the 2015 documentary “City of Gold” — made his disapproval known on Twitter:

Staff names have not yet been changed on L.A. Weekly’s website. The sole remaining staff writer is Hillel Aron; last month, while reporting for Rolling Stone, he was on the receiving end of an explosive exchange with James Toback, where the director called anyone who has accused him of sexual harassment, “a lying cocksucker or cunt or both.” In Los Angeles, November was bookended by local media shakeups: news site LAist shuttered without warning on November 2.

The final issue of L.A. Weekly edited by Shalhoup hits newsstands today. This Sunday, the group will vie for 21 honors at The Los Angeles Press Club’s National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards Gala. Wolfe, who joined the paper in April 2016, is a Journalist of the Year nominee for stories like one she wrote this summer on choreographing onscreen rape scenes.

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