An Oral History of OC Weekly on the Occasion of Its 20th Anniversary: An Introduction

An Oral History of OC Weekly on the Occasion of Its 20th Anniversary: An Introduction


A friend who recently moved back to Portland after a few years in OC explained before she left, "You know those shoppers at the Korean department store that collapsed, where the water pipes had been cracking, the floor was buckling, and they just ignored it and kept shopping till they were crushed? That's the way it feels to me here."

The county's broke. Everyone with money or reason has hauled ass out of here for saner climes. Our sports teams abandon us. Our military bases close. Our social services attrit. We catch fire. We get flooded. Carl's burgers splatter on our shoes! So, okay, we're in hell, which at least goes a long way toward explaining why Bob Dornan represents us. —Jim Washburn, in his first Lost In OC column, Sept. 15, 1995 *****

It's a spring night in Fullerton, circa 2015. Communications Week. A class of grad students endures a dreary, droning talk from a corporate communications person for Wells Fargo's Orange County division. She's going on about what a great job it is running interference for some local grubs of Wall Street. But then she mentions how a local newspaper was working on a story about a local branch of Wells Fargo and how she had to deal with one of its reporters, the kind of task she was handsomely paid for, though dreaded.

"If you're a banker in Orange County," she told the class, "you don't want to be in Orange County Weekly."

Damn straight.


If there is any truth to the hoary adage that the highest calling of a journalist and the outlets that employ them is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted, OC Weekly is living, breathing, noxious proof.

How has it afflicted the comforted? Bob Dornan claimed its coverage led to his historic 1996 election loss. Its investigations have led to indictments and resignations and jail time for mayors, council members, assemblymen, even a sheriff—a sheriff. It has poked and prodded numerous instances of political and law-enforcement corruption and malfeasance. It has pricked establishment balloons from high society to organized religion, plus everything in between.

And how has it comforted the afflicted? It has freed innocent people from jail, given a voice to the discarded and disenfranchised and subcultures in a time and a place in which such voices were often silenced. It highlighted bands that went on to greater things and brought business to restaurants, designers, artists—all the saints in this blighted, beautiful OC. More than anything else, it told stories. Stories of the rich and powerful, the disaffected and ignored. Stories that comment, reflect, investigate. Some are deathly serious, and some just outrageous goofs. From masterful literary journalism to invective-laden rants.

The story of OC Weekly during the past 20 years is part of the story of Orange County during the past 20 years. And whether mocked, scorned, embraced or ignored, it has stayed faithful to that mission.

And now, for the first time, OC Weekly tells its own story, through the words and observations of the people who worked for it, as well as from a few it targeted and championed.

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The commies and the Mexicans, the radicals and dissenters, the disposable and displaced, the sinners and suburbanites, the nerds and geeks and accursed and freaks, the intellectuals and bookworms, the curmudgeons and cynics, the snarky and satirists, the arrogant and asshole-ish, the bodhisattvas and beatniks, and just the average Joe or Jane or José or Thuy who got sick of gargling in the rat-race choir and felt compelled to say something—anything—about the place he or she calls home.

Here is that story. Was it always pretty neat or tidy? No. But it was always—and continues to be—a story.

Click here for Part the One, in which a ragtag group of misfits create a newspaper that invades Orange County...


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