Photo by Raul VegaJust a few months after OC Weekly took off in September 1995, we hit turbulence. Following a cover story on financial trouble at Diedrich Coffee, the coffeehouse chain demanded a meeting with Weekly publisher Michael Sigman.
Sigman met with Diedrich Coffee execs at the company's Irvine offices and fielded Diedrich CEO John Martin's single demand: retract the objectionable article or lose the right to distribute the Weekly at Diedrich Coffee.
Sigman politely told Martin no deal. The racks were removed.
A short time later, Diedrich Coffee's board of directors revolted over declining stock prices and threw Martin overboard. But some things never change: you can still get a great cup of coffee at Diedrich Coffee, and you still can't get this newspaper.
Sigman has never looked back with anything like regret on that decision or the countless others he's made in defense of the Weekly. He is a reporter's publisher, a relentless defender of editorial freedom. He knows that writers given the freedom to crusade will attract readers, and that readers attract advertisers. Now Sigman, who published LA Weekly for most of its history and was one of OC Weekly's two co-founders, is gone. He was fired on Jan. 17 by our other co-founder, Village Voice MediaCEO David Schneiderman.
In a letter to LA and OC Weekly employees, Schneiderman said he "asked" Sigman "to step down," and would begin the search immediately for a replacement with the "strategic vision" to help the papers compete "with the entire range of media in the city—dailies, radio, cable and more."
In his own memo to employees, Sigman said, "I've been doing this job in one form or another for nearly 20 years, and [Schneiderman] has let me know that he feels it's time for a change."
The need for a change is not entirely obvious. The papers are doing well, and any other explanation is obscured to some extent by mutual politeness. Sigman would offer no criticism of his boss. Schneiderman said Sigman "has had an extraordinary run at the Weekly. I deeply respect his abilities, his professionalism and his fundamental decency."
Sigman's departure is also obscured by the fact that OC Weeklyis not merely the Weekly itself, but part of a chain of similar newspapers (in LA, Seattle, Cleveland, Minneapolis, New York and Nashville) with headquarters in New York City and financial ties to Wall Street. We're not always privy to decisions made in New York; the payoff is almost complete autonomy.
We'll miss Michael Sigman, not merely because he was present at our birth, but also because he helped raise us into bawling, boisterous newspaper adolescence. He did so with courage, good humor and occasional—deserved—kicks in the ass. We won't miss the kicks in the ass.