On Friday, former staff writer Hillel Aron was named interim editor-in-chief of LA Weekly, capping a tumultuous week that included PR gaffes by the paper’s new owners, and a boycott effort organized by former LA Weekly writers that killed the annual Sips & Sweets event after nearly all sponsors pulled out.
Aron was the only staff writer retained after most of his colleagues were laid off Nov. 29, an event former editor-in-chief Mara Shalhoup compared to the “Red Wedding” on “Game of Thrones.” Aron tells TheWrap that the layoffs took him by surprise, but admits he didn’t consider his own job at risk.
Before the sale of LA Weekly was made public, Aron found out Brian Calle, now the business manager of LA Weekly, was involved with Semanal Media, the Orange County-based consortium that now owns LAW. The two had worked together on a television show in 2012, so Aron reached out to Calle, former Southern California News Group opinion editor, about the sale.
“He didn’t talk to me about plans,” Aron says. But because of his prior relationship with Calle, who Aron disclosed had once expressed interest in hiring him at the SCNG-owned OC Register, after their conversation “I personally did not expect to be fired.”
However, Aron says he wasn’t expecting the scale and immediacy of the layoffs, which included Shalhoup, music editor Andy Hermann, arts and culture editor Gwynedd Stuart, managing editor Drew Tewksbury, and food editor Katherine Spiers, among others. “Because how would you put out a newspaper?”
“So I was wrong and I was right,” he continued. “I don’t know why they did what they did. It’s crazy.”
When Aron announced on Twitter that he had taken the job, he said the new owners had agreed to several conditions, including that union representatives will be allowed back in the newsroom, he will control editorial content, and two former writers or editors will be hired back. “I want to make sure those conditions are kept,” he tells TheWrap, adding that despite widespread concerns about the conservative political bent of the new owners, “I have no reason to think that they won’t [be].”
According to Aron, the new owners are already moving forward on those conditions, and a meeting with union representatives is set for Monday. Aron says he has also reached out to two former editorial members about hiring them back, and is waiting for their response.
The “interim” in his title suggests that whatever concessions he secured may be temporary, but Aron says it was his idea. “They’re not looking for someone else to the best of my knowledge,” he tells TheWrap. “Interim was something I wanted to see if they keep their promises.”
Aron says he went to the owners with the idea of taking over as editor because “someone needed to jump in and make sure the new owners were not controlling the editorial content of the newspaper.” The news owners had asked his advice after a series of serious missteps, which also included a widely-derided pitch for unpaid content that misspelled “Angeleno,” that put the paper in “crisis mode.”
“Things are moving really fast, I basically just want people to know I’m trying to keep the paper going for right now,” Aron said, adding that he doesn’t expect or necessarily want to remain in this job forever.
Aron did hint that there may be concrete efforts to purchase the paper away from its new owners. “I’ve been led to believe there are people interested in buying the newspaper [from Semanal Media],” though he says he’s not sure who that is or if it’s necessarily true. “I don’t know if they’re real. I just don’t know.”
“We’re gonna try to put out the best paper we can with the resources we’ve been given,” Aron said. “We hope we’re judged on our content and not anything else.”