Since purchasing LA Weekly late last year, Semanal Media is proving that their management style is one defined by chaos, inefficiency and a disregard for basic ethical standards.
Below is a short list of the offenses to journalism that have transpired so far since the LA Weekly was sold.
The 99 Essentials
The Essentials event is one of LA Weekly's crown jewels, connected to the 99 Essential Restaurants Issue published each March. This year's list -- the first since Semanal purchased the paper -- was problematic for several reasons:
- Unopened restaurants: The list included Hock + Hoof, a downtown pan-Asian restaurant that was still a month away from opening. Eater LA asked LA Weekly food editor Michele Stueven how a restaurant that isn't open to the public could be included, Stueven said "I'm all about what's new and their food is great." In a since-deleted tweet, Stueven replied to a criticism of Hock + Hoof's inclusion by saying "Pretend for a minute that I actually get invited to taste the food."
- Pay to Play: Eater LA also reported in that same piece that "at least two restaurants not on this year's list have also privately stated to Eater that they were told by Weekly staffers they would be included in the Essentials rankings if they participated in the in-person event. Both declined."
- Questionable bylines: In addition to much of the list being populated with pre-written copy by fired food editor Katherine Spiers and former restaurant critic Besha Rodell, LA Weekly's director of marketing also contributed, writing a blurb on Petty Cash Taqueria. The marketing side of a newspaper should never cross over into the editorial side.
Secrecy of Ownership
Voice Media Group agreed to sell LA Weekly to Semanal Media, “a mysterious new company,” the LA Times reported in October 2017. They did not respond to questions about its ownership or location.
Roughly three weeks later, the LA Times reported that Brian Calle, a self-described “free market enthusiast” and former opinion editor for the Orange County Register and other Digital First daily newspapers, and David Welch, an attorney in the cannabis industry, had been selected for leadership and investor roles, respectively. The existing staff was never notified.
Firing of Staff
We were expecting there to be some pain with the sale of @LAWeekly. But we weren't expecting the Red Wedding. That's how deep the cuts are. 1/
— Mara Shalhoup (@mshalhoup) November 29, 2017
On November 29 Semanal Media laid off nine of the paper’s 13 editorial staffers, an event then editor-in-chief Mara Shalhoup compared to the infamous "Red Wedding" episode of Game of Thrones. This mass firing was a significant loss of institutional knowledge and reflected blatant disregard for the journalists who helped build the paper (and the union of which they were members).
It’s worth noting that Semanal has continued repurposing content from staffers who were fired and is using their work under false pretenses to curate and promote events.
In an attempt to quell negative public opinion, Semanal Media finally re-filled several editorial positions -- two months after firing the majority of the editorial staff. Three of the five new hires come from careers at traditional daily newspapers in Orange County and have never before covered L.A. Only one ever had a byline at an alternative weekly before taking the job at LA Weekly, the largest and oldest alt in the nation.
Changing of Dates on Stories
In mid December 2017, LA Weekly contributors and media watchdogs discovered that several stories that had been published by LA Weekly prior to Semanal Media’s purchase reappeared on the site with new, inaccurate datelines. Some contributors suspected this was an attempt to repopulate the site with content, since Semanal Media seemingly had not made any new assignments in the week since the purchase and had little to no editorial strategy in place.
LA Weekly seems to have done the same thing to stories by at least three different writers. pic.twitter.com/pEo1T5yQsq
— Julia Wick (@sherlyholmes) December 12, 2017
Defied Journalistic Best Practices
Since Semanal Media’s purchase of LA Weekly in November 2017, the paper has scaled back on original reporting and has increasingly relied on second-hand information aggregated from other newspapers, often without proper citation and links. Not only does this defy journalistic best practices, but it also means that LA Weekly readers are losing the quality, on-the-ground reporting for which the paper was formerly known.
ABOVE: Before and after screenshots of edited LA Weekly article about Patrick Soon-Shiong, with reporting sourced entirely from other publications.
Plagiarized Press Releases
Journalists sometimes rely on press releases about events, news, and other information to help inform their articles, but it it is against standard journalistic practice to re-publish sections of a press release verbatim — which is what several new articles on LA Weekly’s website have now done.
While these articles raise questions about the potential blurring of lines between sales and editorial, they also constitute as plagiarism, a major violation for any journalist.
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