An Oral History of OC Weekly, Part 4: October 2010-???
As the Weekly began the fourth part of its 20-year history, times were tough. The dual forces of the Internet and the Great Recession, which were beginning to eviscerate nearly every print-based publication, were keenly felt. The staff had never been trimmer. The page count had never been smaller. Morale had never been lower. But those who were there, as well as those who joined, remained committed to documenting stories that reflected and praised, castigated and satirized the county they were in. And though things would become even more tumultuous over the next year, a page was about to be turned. . . .
Matt Coker: I didn't have the big problem with Ted that everyone did. Maybe the biggest thing is that it always seemed he said no to every story I pitched: "No, no, no." It was like you had to change the editor's mind. Obviously, he said yes to some things, but that's what it felt like to me.
Chasen Marshall, staff writer, 2010-2011: You would hear about some hard feelings, but I wasn't there long enough to build the relationships to know what was going on. But I absolutely felt as if I were part of the team. It was always fun hearing the stories they were pursuing. Moxley is a beast unto himself. You would never know what he was working on, and all of a sudden, he'd lay this 1,000-word editorial down that you knew was going to get people upset and do exactly what the Weekly was trying to do. I learned a lot from those guys. They were all fantastic editors. I felt they made me a better writer, and at the end of the day, that's all you're looking for.
Lilledeshan Bose, music editor, 2010-2012: I came on right when blogs were getting really huge everywhere. There hadn't been as much of a focus on the music blog before me, and music editors had to deal mostly with print. But now every blog had a quota of hits to make, and that was a challenge trying to figure out which stories would get the most hits. But it was also good because it made the competitive spirit rise to the occasion. We wanted to get our stories up first so people would read them first. I remember I was driving when I heard on the radio that Whitney Houston had died. I stopped on the side of the road and wrote something on my phone just to get it up there. The blog was good, not just in terms of engaging readers through comments, but there were a lot more things they could find out—things that weren't big enough for an entire article or a local angle on something happening nationally. The story I liked the most working on was a Bradley Nowell retrospective we did in 2011. It was a cover story that Vickie Chang worked with me on. The 15th anniversary of his death was coming up, and we really wanted to do a cover on him.
Vickie Chang: She manned the print portion, and I helped with the digital portion for an overall package.
Bose: I think a lot of people who didn't grow up with Sublime underestimate how much he meant to Orange County and Long Beach. We thought it would be awesome if we could just have everyone who knew him talk about their memories of him. The anniversary was in May, and two times before then—as far back as March—I had pitched a cover story to Ted. Both times, he said no. But he was fine with it being a regular music feature. Then, about a week before the [anniversary date], Vickie mentioned it was too bad it wasn't going to be on the cover. And he asked, "Why isn't it going to be on the cover?" And I said I had pitched it twice. And he said something like, "Well, why didn't you push harder?" Anyway, he changed his mind, and we did put it on the cover, even though I only had three days to do it, and I wanted to die because it was so much work. But everybody wanted to talk about him because they missed him—No Doubt, Slightly Stoopid, his wife, everybody. And it turned out to be one of the best things we ever worked on. So many hits.
Chang: When the cover hit the stands, people were scrambling to collect it. Fans scattered copies of it on his grave.
Bose: There were even people selling it on eBay.
In July 2011, Kelly Thomas, a homeless, mentally ill man, was beaten to death by six Fullerton police officers. The story made international headlines, and even though the Weekly didn't break it, the paper covered the hell out of it thanks to editorial fellow Marisa Gerber, clubs editor Brandon Ferguson, Coker and R. Scott Moxley. The Weekly had long made a name for itself covering police brutality and corrupt cops—in fact, the 2003 Scariest People issue was devoted to OC's 31 scariest cops at the time.
Marisa Gerber, editorial fellow, 2011: I don't think I would be at the [Los Angeles Times] today if not for the people who helped me at the Weekly. The opportunity to cover stories like Kelly Thomas and to be treated from day one as if I were on par with reporters like Nick and Scott, who I certainly wasn't on par with, was professionally the best decision I ever made. Ted was the one who put me on the Kelly Thomas story. He said, "This is a national story; don't mess it up." I really appreciated that he trusted me enough to let me work on that story.
Ron Thomas, father of Kelly Thomas: You guys never took sides, and you covered everything. Some of it was not favorable to me, and that's okay because that's journalism. But you guys don't hold back. You're not accountable to anybody. You're free to say what you want, no matter the politics involved. And that's why you're appreciated.
Nick Schou: It never ceases to amaze me how in the age of cellphone cameras, how many people are shocked about police brutality. It's really always been there and just hasn't been well-reported on, and I think people hadn't been outraged by it because they didn't have the visual. It's hard to not be cynical when you see what happens with Kelly Thomas, for example, because I had written about police brutality and excessive-force cases resulting in death and people arrested and terrible atrocities that were taking place. We always thought the only way that a jury would ever convict a cop is if the victim were white, rich, handcuffed and unconscious and if it were on video. And yet, with Kelly Thomas, the whole thing was on video, the guy didn't commit any crime, and he's white, on top of everything else. He fit the bill for that one type of candidate, except he was mentally ill and homeless. Obviously, that is what got him beaten so hard he died. It just proved the point that an OC jury will acquit any cop, regardless.
The Thomas affair was also the beginning of the end for an editor.
Gustavo Arellano: Tony Bushala [who ran the blog Friends for Fullerton's Future] broke that story. That was all him. But we did great work on it. We were the second outlet to run the photo [of Thomas' battered face, which quickly went viral], and I remember Vickie said we should put it on the cover. I thought it was a great idea, but Ted said no. I can't remember his objection, but he did not like sexual or violent images. But imagine the frickin' impact it would have had? Will would have done it in a heartbeat. I would have done it. But Ted said no. And I'm thinking, "Fuck, man. What the hell is going on?" That, in my mind, was the turning point when he lost us. It's not something he did. It's something he didn't do.
Discontent in the newsroom—particularly from Arellano, Moxley and Schou—continued to build until a staff meeting in October.
R. Scott Moxley: We're sitting in the conference room, and out of the blue, Ted says, "I want you news guys to give me all your confidential sources, their telephone numbers, their addresses, their cell numbers, their office numbers." And if you know me at all, I have FBI agents, federal judges, prosecutors. I've got confidential sources—could you imagine? I said, "Okay, let me play this out. You're going to call a federal judge, and you're going to say what? 'Hi, I'm Ted Kissell?' And he's going to go, 'Who the fuck are you, and how did you get my number?' You're going to call FBI agent so and so? 'Who the fuck are you?'" It was a ridiculous request.
I get home, and he writes me an email, and it says, "Because you were the most"—whatever word he used—"you were the biggest asshole, you're going to give all of them to me first . . . and Nick, you're next tomorrow morning." Dude, can you imagine the email I wrote back? I can tell you right now it had so many cuss words and "f-you"s in it. I was furious. Think about the relationships I developed. To have a confidential source called by your boss whom they don't know, not even know your name? You're dead in the water; they're going to say to you, "Dude, I gave you my home number, and you're going to give it to this dickwit?"
Patrice Wirth Marsters: He even asked me. I don't really write anything, but he wanted a list of sources and agencies I contact. What did he mean, my sources? The phone number for the guy at the Associated Press who I sometimes called to verify how we're spelling something? Come on!
Arellano: I go into my office, and Ted comes in and says, "You've got to get them on my side. You're not one of them anymore." And in my mind, I'm thinking, "Who the fuck are you to tell me I'm not one of them? Sure, I have the title of managing editor, but we were here long before you, and you don't know the sacrifices we had to do to keep the paper up as much as we had." Then he walked out, and he was mad. First time he ever got really mad at me. A few weeks later, Ted resigns. And, holy fuck, I'm the editor of OC Weekly.
From sarcastic letter-writer with no experience in journalism to editor in chief, Arellano's trajectory was complete.
Luke Y. Thompson: Gustavo's morale is always high. I don't think I've ever seen him low about anything.
Victor Infante: I think [the paper has] managed to somehow hold onto its soul, and I credit Gustavo and Matt. Because that was something really tremendously hard, to hold that voice and that sense of purpose together.
Arellano wasn't the only old Weekling to get a promotion.
Schou: When Gustavo moved from managing editor to editor, I applied for managing editor in an effort to reinvigorate the editorial leadership, to try to develop talent and encourage other writers. By this time, we were trying to pull people out of such a deep, dark hole. We had a whole string of talented people leave, one after another. And when we took over, we had a lot of work to do just to get the people who were still here happy again and to try to correct some of the damage that had already been done.
The two—frequent lunch buddies—were what the Weekly needed.
Amanda Parsons: Nick would listen to my ideas, and we would talk over lunch, and he would go to bat for me about my stories. Nick is a great person and a good man, and I really appreciate what he did for me and taught me.
Moxley: It got us back to who we were, immediately. Ted was always worried about offending someone or getting into trouble. Will actually invited it. He would ask us, "Who's the bad guy this week? Tell me. I want to know." That kind of aggressiveness, Gustavo picked up immediately. We all knew that's the way it should be.
Arellano: I could tell we had a change for the better in morale immediately once I came in. I think they knew that I could not be bought—they knew I was on their side, and more important, they knew I was going to work my ass off as much as I was asking them to work.
Taylor Hamby, intern, editorial assistant and web editor, 2010-present: You could feel it was a big shift, a big difference, a big weight lifted from everybody's shoulders. Even though I didn't have a negative experience with Ted, I know other people did. And the morale was completely boosted. Gustavo got rid of a lot of tedious things. We used to have to write copy notes for our meetings every week. I had to come in extra early and get notes from everyone on what they were working on, and then compile and print them out and hand them out to everyone at the meeting. No one liked doing it, and that was the first thing Gustavo got rid of. Everyone rejoiced.
The shuffling of roles meant new positions needed to be filled and the departures of Chang, who moved to MySpace, and Bose, who had just had a baby, meant more shuffling.
Arellano: Several of them were strangers to us, but basically, it was fresh blood, and it was reinvigorating. But I was also proud in bringing back to our pages former Weeklings, even some of the people who had left in 2007. [Steve Lowery, Dave Wielenga, Anthony Pignataro, Bob Aul, Cornel Bonca, Jim Washburn and Rich Kane are some of the Weekly alums who have written or drawn since Arellano's promotion.] The people we have today are more buttoned-down than the old guard. There's no Rebecca, no Lowery, there's no Dave. There never will be. I'm not seeking to re-create the past. The past is past, and it will never be re-created. What I've always sought to do is to make what we are today an extension of that, to still be part of that family tree, to have that DNA from the past in the present day.
Several things have truly stood out in this period of the Weekly's saga: history, food, marijuana dispensaries, killer cops, the train wreck that is the Orange County Register and, of course, Moxley's energized coverage of law enforcement, particularly the Orange County district attorney's office.
Arellano: One of the things I've always prided us doing is the history stories. We've done it since the beginning. Will was a history major, so that's always been part of the Weekly. Tracing the legacy of Richard Nixon in the county. [Freelancer] Bob Emmers talking about [Father Junipero] Serra and a big hippie concert in Laguna. Will talking about the truth about the swallows returning to Capistrano. Some guy from New Orleans named Paul Brennan, whom we first found after he won a date with Commie Girl, writing on Modesta Avila and Francisco Torres, these long-lost historical figures. Nick got a book out of covering the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, the so-called hippie Mafia. I've written things about the Citrus War of 1936 and some crazy Mexican who broke out of jail, beat up the Theo Lacy, and became a folk hero to gabachos and Mexicans alike.
Lisa Alvarez, Irvine Valley College English professor currently working on a compilation of Orange County authors: The Weekly not only reports on the urgent issues of the community, but also tells us our past history. The burning of Chinatown—just wonderful. Gustavo's work on the fellow that wrote the corrido about the Santa Ana River flood of the 1930s. The stories that aren't told today and yesterday are something I think you guys do the best.
Lisa Black, contributor and proofreader, 2011-current: I have learned so much about [Orange County's history] from reading every word of the editorial pages.
Protests at the Fullerton Police Station surrounding Thomas' death joined protests in Anaheim in the summer of 2012, after two officer-related shootings over one weekend followed a decade of such killings. The actions culminated with a riot near Anaheim City Hall, where five Weeklings covered the scene from the ground, with Hamby providing social-media support. Gabriel San Román, who grew up in the city, contributed to the coverage.
Gabriel San Román, contributor, 2006-present: I've written dozens of things about police brutality, and I know they're aware. Taylor Hamby told me she struck up a conversation with a married couple at the Coach House, and they asked where she worked. She said OC Weekly, and then they said, "Who is this Gabriel San Román? He's a big mouth." It turned out to be a deputy chief. So they know of my work, and I'm in close quarters with them.
The old, anarchic spirit of the Weekly returned with Arellano and Schou in charge of the paper. In January 2013, photographer Jack Gould accompanied Ferguson (who declined to participate in this oral-history project) on a jaunt through Orange County, where Ferguson, dressed in a Ku Klux Klan robe, posed in front of places that were named after Klan members. The story was titled "Welcome to Ku Klux Kounty!" and included a shot of Ferguson standing in front of the Orange County 5 freeway sign, holding a bag of oranges.
LP Hastings, editorial assistant/photographer, 2012-present: The funny thing about that story is that we had such a hard time finding a KKK robe, and Taylor blurted out, much to my dismay, that my mother was a seamstress. Gustavo put me on the spot and asked if I could ask my mom if she wouldn't mind making this costume. We would pay her well, and no one would ever know she made it. Well, that didn't go over well with my family, and the paper wound up renting a costume. When that story came out, I was pretty shocked with how we could get away with something that crazy.
Jack Gould: That was very interesting. People would see us and have various reactions. Some would freak out and start honking their horns, and other people would cheer. That was guerrilla photography—had to set up and shoot it fast.
Dustin Ames, art director, 2013-current: We want to make the cover as compelling as possible. If a story requires it, we'll do shock value. But if it doesn't, if we don't need to, we don't want to shock for shock's case. But if the story is shocking, the cover should be shocking. Shocking!
Another notable story came in May 2013, a cover package of stories titled "Where the Black People At?"
Arellano: I remember it always bothering me that there are next-to-no black people in OC. That is problematic. It says a lot about who we are as a county, and that's a problem. So it rumbled in my mind for a while, and then there was some stupid anti-black incident at UC Irvine on MLK Day.
So I thought, "Let's do a cover package on the lack of African-Americans in Orange County." But how would we do it? We can't be too serious about it. Dustin came up with the idea to make the cover a Where's Waldo? kind of thing. We had Michelle write something serious about UCI. Gabriel highlighted a black barbershop in Anaheim. I wrote a time line of dumb racist moments in Orange County history and reviewed a soul-food restaurant. And then the really important one, Nate [Jackson, the first African-American to hold an editorial staff position at the Weekly] wrote about what it was like growing up black in the county, and it was beautiful and funny.
The story comes out, and it's just craziness. People start calling the paper, thinking we're ridiculing black people, threatening to kick my ass. It's one of my favorite issues we've ever done. I also think it was one of the most hated issues we've ever done. People started hating. "Why do you have to talk about the lack of black people in OC? Black people don't live here because Orange County is too good for them." The comments were obnoxious.
Michelle Woo, staff writer/contributor 2011-present: I wrote the story about the [Asian-American] frat at UC Irvine donning blackface in a music video. A lot of news outlets were reporting on it, but I got to spend time with members of the Black Student Union. Blacks only make up 2.6 percent of the student body, so I got to see how much racism they were faced with on a daily basis, both on a micro and macro level. It felt rewarding to go beyond the surface of this one incident and discover it's a problem rooted in the university's history and to really see what these students face on a daily basis.
Chang: When I saw that issue, I thought, "Yes. That is what the OC Weekly should be writing about."
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One critique of the Weekly from long-time readers, other than diminishing page counts and its shrinkage (today it's lucky if it breaks 50 pages and is nearly 2 inches shorter in length than when it started), is having one long feature story as the cover, meaning fewer stories, particularly news, running in print every week.
Arellano: Here's what I would say to that: In the glory years of page counts, we had no web presence. We would put the stories we had online, and that's it. We didn't start our blog until 2006. But, yes, the paper has shrunk, and there are fewer pages, and haters will say that's all happened under me and Nick, that we're letting the paper go to waste. But look at the page count of the LA Times, the Register, The New York Times, any publication. That's just the nature of the beast. It's sad every time you see it getting smaller and smaller. A part of you dies every time. But it's just the reality of the evolution of the times, for better or for worse. And given what we're putting online, I'd say we're doing more journalism at the Weekly now than ever before.
The Weekly's Web efforts feature an ecosystem of hilarity that never makes it into the print edition: monthly lists about heavy-metal bands, staffers interacting with haters in story comments, slideshows, videos. Every night on the Weekly's Facebook page brings the Poll Dance, in which the paper asks a question about Orange County, then lets its readers have fun responding.
But the focus on long-form journalism for the print edition is still cherished by staffers.
Woo: We had the opportunity to do stories that others don't do in the world of short blurbs online. We went way beyond that. People really looked forward to getting their copy every Thursday, and then sitting down with it to really read something in-depth. It's an experience in today's world that you don't find all that much. The reporters and writers have so much knowledge on their respective beats, and many have been in Orange County for so many years. So they are so rich in knowledge, and it's really nice to see how fiercely they cover their community.
San Román: I think the Weekly is a rare place in the media landscape, especially the cover stories. There's a novelistic tone present in the storytelling, and I think this triumvirate—Schou, Moxley and Arellano—really display how to write a long-form journalistic piece that is engaging from the opening paragraph to the ending sentence. People like them and Matt Coker, who is a wonderful writer and has the best sense of humor at that spot, can't help but encourage you to up your game and find ways to improve. In my case, it helps me to find ways to improve my own voice as a storyteller, mixing investigation with humor and all kinds of things.
Josh Dulaney, staff writer, 2012: One of the things I worked on was a regular column about visiting houses of worship in Orange County. And a few stood out. One group was talking about a spaceship that was on its way. I went to a mosque and just remember this young guy kneeling forward, and every time he leaned down toward the ground, he was looking at his phone, I think at his Facebook page. I did a story about a woman who was a former spy for Scientology, and she left the church and ended up getting spied on herself. I showed up at a couple of Scientology-related events, and people whom I had never met recognized who I was. So I think I was a marked man.
The paper remained as feared as ever, especially by its competitors.
Andrew Galvin, former Register reporter and current Weekly contributor: One area in which I thought the Weekly totally excelled was the coverage of Aaron Kushner and his takeover of the Register. Gustavo did a great job bringing out this slow train wreck that the Register was under Kushner. As someone who was inside it, I was learning things from Gustavo that weren't necessarily being shared in the newsroom.
Arellano: All I have to say about Kushner is that me calling him the Stuart Smalley of print journalism was nothing but truth. And gracias for winning me two LA Press Clubs awards for Best Business Story for my stories on him!
The passing of the years also meant that the newest Weeklings had grown up reading the paper.
Nate Jackson, intern and clubs editor, 2007-2009, music editor, 2012-present: I read [the Weekly] all the time [while growing up]. It was different from any other paper I'd ever read. I saw a lot of musicians on the cover. That was something as far as a local paper I wasn't used to seeing. And it had a different, tactile feel. It was more of a magazine than just a newspaper. And it had all these crazy voices in it, seemed like something cool to be a part of. Everyone from Gustavo's ¡Ask a Mexican! column to Rich Kane's stuff. [Of] Dave Segal, I remember thinking, "How the hell did this guy get all these references in a review of a local band who probably had no clue what he was even talking about?" So I knew there was so much history about it before me, and in all the jobs I've had, there are people talking about how great it was way back when. But for a paper that is as great as the Weekly, it's all about writing your own chapter, and you can't get mired in the past. So I'm glad I can contribute a verse to this 20-year-old song.
Hamby: I read it religiously ever since I was about 14. I'd pick it up every week. In my high school journalism class, we had to read newspaper articles and write synopses, so I was writing about Moxley Confidential all that time. That was my favorite. But the [actual] working environment has been more fun than I could ever have imagined. It wouldn't be uncommon to see a blow-up doll floating around the office, and you wouldn't even bat an eye. It was this circus-like atmosphere. There are not too many jobs where I could have a penis candle and a spear on my desk just chilling and write about a bunch of the things I do.
Hastings: The Weekly really feels like a family, and it has made me such a better writer. I read it before I interned, and I think it was better than what I pictured. Moxley really is this crazy-elusive, badass investigative reporter. His personality really is what you read from all his stories. And Gustavo really is this wild Mexican, raising desmasdre.
The new kids brought a perspective that helped the Weekly continue to speak to young people.
Charles Lam, intern and staff writer, 2013-present: Moxley didn't like me for a while because when I was interning [in 2011], I was still a dumb 21-year-old, and someone asked, "What do you want to write?" and I said, "Food and culture; I'm not particularly into news." Moxley was there, and from what I've heard, he was upset. I interviewed for editorial assistant but didn't get it, and from then on, I was determined to get a job there. I started working on hard news for a paper in Seattle, so when I applied for staff writer, I felt I was ready.
"The Very Merry Ungangs of Disneyland" was my third cover story. Dustin goes to the park fairly often, and he started noticing these people. They'd been sitting on the story for a little bit but didn't have anyone to write it. But of our regular writers, I'm the youngest, and I could most easily dive into that culture, and ever since, I've become sort of the Disney writer, which I'm okay with.
Hamby: Some of the biggest web activity was around the Kelly Thomas story, especially when the video [of his beating] surfaced. All eyes were on us. And Kim Pham [a Vietnamese-American woman whose death outside a Santa Ana restaurant received nationwide attention]—you hear about people dying all the time, but for some reason, Kim's story really resonated with the whole country. We reported she had died nearly a week before anyone else did. The original story we did on her got more than 1 million views within days.
Aimee Murillo, clubs editor and calendar editor, 2013-present: Since I've worked here, the Kim Pham story, that was definitely the one that really resonated with me. I'm from downtown Santa Ana. I go there a lot. I feel that I could almost have been there and seen it.
Food has always been a major part of the Weekly's non-news coverage. The first national award it ever received was in 1997, an Alternative Association of Newsweeklies (AAN) first-placer for a food story written by Tom Vasich. In 2013, Michelle Woo's feature on OC restaurateur Jason Quinn also won an AAN award. With the addition of the blog, it's became even more prominent.
Arellano: I was the main food critic from 2002 until about 2007, usually doing two reviews a week—a high-end spot and holes-in-the-wall, which I loved to do more. But I always tried to get different voices in there. This was the time food blogs were coming in, so I decided to nip the competition at the bud and steal the best of the best. That's how I got Edwin [Goei], Dave [Lieberman], Anne Marie [Panoringan] and Shuji [Sakai] in there. The great thing with Edwin was that when [New Times] took over, they didn't want me to write so much, so I asked if he could be the food critic. And that's how a mild-mannered computer nerd from Indonesia by way of La Habra became the best food critic in OC.
Dave Mau, longtime bartender and contributor: I think we definitely have the best food writing in Orange County, and I'm very proud of that. A lot of food writers do nothing except suck one another's dicks about how great all the restaurants are. I think the food scene in the past 20 years has changed so drastically from this old-guard Newport Beach steakhouse, and in all seriousness, I think the OC Weekly has been integral to the narrative and documenting the changes in the food world, not just in Orange County, but also in culture. I think the OC Weekly has been vital in not just what is on the plate, but also documenting the arc of restaurant culture. That's different than writing about a particular restaurant or chef; it's a much bigger picture to tackle.
Edwin Goei, food critic, 2007-present: I've always been an ardent defender of the Orange County food scene, and Gustavo was instrumental in letting people know that Orange County is very diverse. All ethnic diversities are represented: Vietnamese, Mexican, everything. Any flavor, any culture you want to try, you can find it here.
Dave Lieberman, contributor, 2010-present: A story I wrote about the nutritional content of Holy Communion got me booted out of the Catholic Church. It was right after New Year's, and everyone is supposed to be focusing on their diets, but it's really boring to write about diets, so I thought, "Hey, what is the caloric content of Holy Communion?" It's just a cracker and a sip of wine—not too hard to figure out. But then I thought, "If the Catholics are right, and transubstantiation is really what happens, if it's a gram-for-gram transfer from cracker and wine into Jesus, how many times do you have to go to Mass and take Holy Communion to eat one Jesus?" I think Ted liked it, but he was kind of weirded-out that this would come out of my brain. But Gustavo was like, "This is awesome." The web editor, Vickie, was really into it because it got a hell of a lot of hits.
Arellano: Around 2004, Will said I should create something that would allow readers to leave their own [food] reviews. I said the idea was stupid and didn't do it. In other words, we could've invented Yelp. Sorry, Will.
One area that hasn't been so fortunate is arts coverage.
Dave Barton, arts/theater critic, 1995-present: It may sound selfish, but I miss the theater and art reviews that came out weekly in the earlier days of the paper. Will was such a champion of arts coverage. A full-page theater review was 1,200 words at the time, bleeding over to two pages if the pictures were good enough. There were also three or four shorter reviews each week, so the coverage was pretty thorough. It was the same full-page word count with the art columns, too, but now both have been reduced to only 800. And they alternate every week. Some of that could have been picked up by the paper's blogs, but those seem focused only on page hits, so culture gets short shrift. With art and theater being neglected in schools, the only way it will continue to really flourish is fuller coverage. The Weekly is missing a lot of art, and therefore so is Orange County. People don't know what's out there if they aren't aware of it.
Todd Mathews, contributor, 1995-present: AMEN!
Meanwhile, Moxley continued to go after the Powers That Be of Orange County. He covered the Kelly Thomas trial to its conclusion, then shifted his focus to a longtime subject: Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas.
Susan Schroeder, Rackauckas' chief of staff: My experience is that basically we didn't speak to the OC Weekly for years, and then, actually, Scott Moxley and I had an eight-hour meeting at Alcatraz at the Block, where it was the first and only time I have ever seen Scott Moxley in a suit, and his shirt was tucked in. It was pretty incredible. And we had a pretty good relationship for a while. It's not that I ever expect a paper or news agency to ever be flattering toward any agency, and they certainly have not, and I don't have a problem with that, but I don't think it's always been accurate. [Phone rings.] Oh, in fact, that's Scott Moxley. I've got to take that; it's about a news story. I've gotta call you back. Or you can call me back this afternoon. [We did, the next day. Never heard from her again.]
At the beginning of 2015, word came down that the Weekly was up for sale. Again.
Kristine Hoang, clubs editor, 2015: The week after I got hired, I found out we're going to be sold. It's been a great learning experience, but there is an air of not knowing what's going to happen.
Arellano: It's tough. In this modern era of journalism, you don't know what's on the horizon. I told my crew, "This is the reality of the situation. I'm not going to stand by and weep and moan. Sure, it's scary times, but if you want to quit, you go in my good graces, and we'll give you a send-off at Memphis Cafe. But if we're going to go, we're going to go out in a blaze of glory. And if you stay, you're going to work your ass off, just like me."
And I'm not calling this the end times. This paper has a future. We remain as vicious and funny as always because we're the Weekly. It's like that Kinks song, "Last of the Steam-Powered Trains": We're going to remain who we've always been until our dying day. When that dying day is, I know don't, but as long as I'm the editor of the paper, that's how we're going to be.
Mike Lacey: I think that the OC Weekly has had such a strong culture in writing, whether criticism or reporting, that's it's not something that is going to pass easily. There are a lot of bad newspapers out there, but the OC organization has always understood the value of great content. The writers who have been there, writers like Coker and Schou and Moxley, these people are O.G. They've been there forever; they know what's going on.
Josh Dulaney: I'll never forget this comment made by Gustavo. I was in a situation. I called him, and his exact words to me were, "Okay, don't call me until you're actually in jail." That illuminated for the 1,000th time that the editors there have had the backs of the writers. I could call him at a kind of sketchy moment and know I could share a laugh over it and get his support. It was, "Okay, just do your job, see it through, and we'll deal with the consequences, good or bad. Just get the job done."
Rich Kane: To this day, I love the paper and what it stands for. And did I mention the story I'm most proud of, about Anthony Colin from two years ago, the gay kid who [created one of the country's first high school gay-straight alliances at El Modena High and] killed himself?
Michelle Woo: I think it's that voice that's not afraid to really tell the truth, no matter how hard it is to hear, no matter who gets in trouble. It really pushed me as a reporter to keep digging, always. To talk to those who maybe the mainstream papers won't talk to. To do whatever it takes to get the story.
Taylor Hamby: I think we're a truth-teller, we're a devil's advocate, we're a mirror of Orange County. Sometimes, you like what you see in the mirror, sometimes you don't, but usually, it's accurate.
Lisa Black: It plays a crucial role in Orange County. I think there is a very clear, sharp eye on the goings-on, but I think there's a lot of love for Orange County as well.
Nate Jackson: I think the bottom line with this paper is you really have to love our county to hate it the way we do.
Yasmin Nouh: I just felt there was an urgency on the Weekly's part to really cover Orange County and the people who make up Orange County—not just one group or segment; really cover the diverse landscape that is Orange County. And when Gustavo says to raise hell, it's a vernacular way to hold the powers accountable, and he'd always say, "We afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted," and that stuck with me. It's a mantra they really stand by.
Tenaya Hills: I will never forget one of Will's quotes: "If you want to bring attention to a cause, you start a fire."
Jim "Poorman" Trenton, radio legend and Weekly contributor: I think it's the most edgy, innovative publication by far. I can't even think of any other publication in Orange County that has really made an impact like OC Weekly. The Register is sort of a sad commentary on a newspaper that's never really been that good. The Weekly's a definitive publication for creativity and new and edginess and saying what's on your mind without a filter.
Ellen Griley: I just miss those days tremendously. And I can't say that leaving OC Weekly was my biggest regret because I absolutely loved everything that we did at the District. But at the same time, I would give anything to go back to those days with everyone together in that newsroom.
Mark Petracca: I have lived here 30 years, and—given how big the population is, how powerful OC is, how much growth has taken place—I would have expected to emerge in this county significant television and newspaper coverage of Orange County politics. The surprise, the shock, is that we've moved in the opposite direction. All we're left with—and thank goodness we've got it—is the OC Weekly.
Dave Wielenga: It was so much fun, but it wasn't just a small group of friends amusing one another, delivering pizza to one another. There were a bunch of people who loved it and depended on it. People would call, and you were their only hope if they were looking for justice. They couldn't go anywhere else.
Steve Lowery: The Orange County we have 20 years after the Weekly started is so different. I have no doubt the Weekly was part of the energy that helped to mold Orange County. And it gave young people a voice and showed them they weren't alone in their thinking.
Rebecca Schoenkopf: I was proud of the work we did there. I was proud of my writing. I was proud of the guys' reporting; they were fucking good. I never wasn't proud.
R. Scott Moxley: What makes us great is that the core group of OC Weekly, particularly the one that has lasted to this moment, is completely self-motivated. There's no bells or whistles on any of us.
Matt Coker: I think it's mattered a lot. If there's ever been a county that deserves satire, it's this one.
Nick Schou: It's been a great place to work. It's been a laboratory for some of the most important journalism that's been done in California and helped launch a lot of really great reporters who have gone elsewhere to bigger and brighter things. With the shrinkage of the paper and the economic climate, it hasn't been easy. But the reason we're still here is we love the people we work with, and we love the paper and we're going to stay here until the bitter end, one way or another. There's a lot of work that is left to do and a lot of more fun to be had. Hopefully, we'll be sitting around in 10 or 20 years, looking back at this difficult and trying moment. And, yeah, the paper is available to anyone with $1.5 million who's reading this story. Act now before this offer expires. . . .
Jim Washburn: It's hard to say what difference you've made. John Lennon, looking back on the Beatles, said, "The only difference I can see is a lot of assholes with long hair." I'd like to think they made a more profound influence than that, and I'd like to hope the Weekly had a more profound influence and continues to be. I think just being a different voice, holding people's feet to the fire, has made an important difference. Moxley, I think, has made a big difference on the county scene, and that's important, because aside from the Register, the Times has largely abandoned Orange County. I think the Weekly has been—and continues to be—a pretty important thing in the county. I think it's made a difference. I still read it online, not every week. I think I'd be far more inclined to pick it up if they still ran Savage Love.
Patrice Marsters: I really believe in our paper and what we're doing and what we're writing about. I believe we're getting a different voice out there, and that's important. I don't want to believe that journalism is dying, so I'm doing my part to keep it alive, I guess. When it first came out, it was like someone having a baby. It was our baby. We were responsible for it. And even though I was just an intern when I started, I was made to feel a part of the group that way. "This is your baby." And I didn't leave when I had my [actual] babies. I brought my babies here. I'm not done parenting the Weekly, I guess. It's still my baby.
Gustavo Arellano: Simply put, the Weekly saved Orange County from itself.
Will Swaim: I think they still have really amazing and talented people who provide real value. It's amazing and wonderful that they've been able to put it out every week and to also manage the transition to the Internet. And I think Gustavo has done a really good job of editing. He's doing it in much more constraining circumstances. He doesn't have the space or budget we had when I was there. I like the paper. I think it looks good; I think it reads well. It's got some of the same tone. I envy everyone who is there.
But you know what part I really envy, man? I envy that time with those people. But it's like that Thomas Wolfe thing, right? You can't go home again.
It's a tough time to work for a print-related publication. No one reads print. And even in the ongoing migration to the Web, it seems archaic, irrelevant even. And maybe that's the fault of the people doing the work. Maybe they're behind the curve, out of touch, a bunch of dinosaurs clinging to the last vestiges of breath before they expire and their bones molt into the dust. Or maybe some of the responsibility lies with the consumers of media. Those who get their news from scanning newsfeeds on their smartphones, liking and sharing what others have posted, who have the world at their fingertips, but seldom seek out the source of that information.
Well, for 20 years, the OC Weekly has been a source—a source of satire, of ridicule, of entertainment, of hard-hitting investigative journalism. And a source that has long championed the underdog, the marginalized and victimized, the oppressed and ignored, the accused, misused, strung-out ones and worse. In other words, the best of Orange County.
And so, as we mark the 20th birthday of this publication in a county that few in their right mind would have thought had a chance to start, let alone flourish and survive, let's take a moment to reflect upon those who are reading this. You give a fuck—about your community, about your place. (Or you were hoping this was just a long-winded eulogy bidding farewell to this fag rag.) And the Weekly has cared about Orange County for 20 years, and Zeus willing, it'll be caring for 20 more at least. And a small tribe of malcontents and seriously passionate—if woefully underpaid—folks will continue to do the work. And will continue to tell its story.
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