Former Staff Writer Named Interim Editor-in-Chief of LA Weekly

Hillel Aron’s appointment comes after boycott organized by former staffers leads magazine to cancel annual food and drink event

Former staff writer Hillel Aron has been appointed interim editor-in-chief of LA Weekly, just over a week after almost all of the magazine’s editorial staff were laid off following its purchase by Semanal Media, LLC.

Aron’s appointment comes the day after a boycott effort organized by former LA Weekly writers led to the cancelation of the paper’s annual Sips & Sweets event after nearly all of the sponsors pulled out.

Aron was the only staff writer retained in the Nov. 29 layoffs that included former editor-in-chief Mara Shalhoup, music editor Andy Hermann, arts and culture editor Gwynedd Stuart, managing editor Drew Tewksbury, food editor Katherine Spiers and more.

Aron said on he only accepted the position after the new owners “agreed to several conditions,” including his control over the paper’s editorial content, two former writers or editors are hired back, that contributors are paid, and that union representation of the newsroom return.

Aron said also that he will seek to “repair” the “essential trust that binds the paper to its community.” He added: “I will also aim to uphold the paper’s values of independence, irreverence and fearlessness.”

He asked for readers to give the paper a new “chance,” and to hold the paper “accountable,” “just as we seek to hold this great city accountable.”

TheWrap has reached out for further comment from Aron.

See Aron’s full thread below.

Later Friday, Semanal Media investors Brian Calle and David Welch confirmed the appointment in a letter to employees, obtained by TheWrap:

We have made numerous missteps in the transition of new leadership at L.A. Weekly. We acknowledge it. We own it. We apologize for it.

Our missteps have allowed rumor, conjecture, and misinformation to eclipse fact. False narratives have snowballed in part because we have not adequately provided our vision and plan for the Weekly’s future to the public.

Our plan is straightforward: we want to sustain the L.A. Weekly and help bring its message to more people.

We are committed to inclusion, diversity and, above all, a free and independent press.

The Myths & The Truth

Over the last week, there have been a flurry of stories from several media outlets perpetuating the false narrative that we purchased the Weekly to turn it into a right-wing propaganda machine. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The new ownership is made up of people from many different backgrounds: progressive, conservative, African American, Asian, Persian, Latino, Caucasian, gay, straight, and immigrant. We believe our diversity gives us strength.

Beginning today, Hillel Aron will take over as Interim Editor. Aron will be responsible for all editorial content at the Weekly. He will have complete independence and autonomy from the business side of the company. He’ll also create an Editorial Advisory Board made up of veteran progressive Angeleno journalists to ensure that the Weekly preserves its progressive voice.

Several reports have inaccurately stated that new ownership fired nearly all staff members. The reality is the majority of L.A. Weekly’s staff remains in place.

We wish we could have saved the entire editorial staff, but the sad reality is that revenues have declined more than 50 percent over the past five years and the publication was going broke. The company wouldn’t have been able to afford all of its full-time employees and at the rate revenues were declining, the paper would have had to eventually lay off all employees and close its doors. We aren’t leaner because we want to be-it’s because we have to be. Unfortunately, this is an all-to-common theme in media today.
One of the untold stories about the internal workings of the Weekly over the last few years is that the vast majority of the stories and all of the photographs in the Weekly have come from freelancers. We want to increase opportunities for freelance writers and photographers in L.A. in order to get a broader viewpoint of our beautiful city.

We are going to do so by expanding the number of paid freelance writers and thus the number of paid freelance pieces.

Some are spreading the false notion that we do not want to pay freelancers. The reality is we will pay our writers and photographers. It is saddening to hear stories from freelancers who are threatened with professional damage or blacklisting if they continue to work with the Weekly. We understand that frustration exists, but attempting to tear down an institution like the L.A. Weekly in its 40th year only hurts our staff, those who write for the paper, and the community we serve.

We would like to have more full-time staff. We believe that will eventually become a reality. First and foremost, we are working to bring on additional editing help.
We are already talking with IAMAW and we will sit down with them in the coming weeks. We fully intend to support our staff’s desire to unionize.

Moving Forward

We want to sustain the Weekly’s legacy by challenging the status quo, empowering the marginalized, and going where no other media outlets will go- literally and figuratively. If you think about it, many of the things the Weekly advocated for 40 years ago at its inception are now mainstream. The question that guides us is: what are the issues we should cover today to help bring into the mainstream 10, 20, 30 or 40 years from now?

We want to push boundaries. We want to challenge our readers and, at times, make them uncomfortable. We want to cover the underground movements. We want to be the go-to place for activities and events in the city. We want more food coverage, more music coverage, more arts coverage, and more entertainment coverage. We want to further the Weekly as the hub of L.A. culture.

It’s frustrating that our launch has gotten off to a rough start, but we are committed to the community, the city, and to the amazing staff here at the Weekly that we’ve been working alongside this past week.

It’s disheartening that our intentions for purchasing the Weekly have been misrepresented and that so much misinformation about who we are has been spread.

But our hope is to create an environment of transparency so that journalists throughout Los Angeles can report accurate information as we rebuild our relationship and continue the profound legacy of the L.A. Weekly. We understand that trust must be earned, and we will work hard to earn that trust from our community.

– Brian Calle and David Welch