The Prodigal Editor
In August 2005, I left OC Weekly after aseven-year stint as the paper's music editor. It wasn't my choice to leave, but the split was actually a great thing. When you take in a five-band screamo bill at Chain Reaction and realize you're the oldest person in the room, getting stares from 12-year-olds that say, "You look just like my dad/math teacher/priest who fondles me," that can get you thinking about a career change right quick. There were one or two co-workers I never really liked that much, anyway, plus the motherfuckers gave me $10,000 severance to walk out the door and never come back. Christ, who wouldn't skedaddle?
A few months later, the Weekly became one of the papers bought by New Times Media, which owned alternative weekly newspapers in a bunch of other cities. I'd heard about the supposed evils of New Times from Weekly colleagues who had worked for the company—sordid tales of loyalty oaths; bar codes tattooed on staffers' necks; reporters made to write their stories while dangling from flesh-piercing meathooks; routine floggings from big, burly Cossacks to ensure that writers met story quotas. At the time, I remember thinking, "Wow, sure glad I'm not working there anymore."
I wound up helping to start another alterna-paper, the Inland Empire Weekly. Things were good, we did as much work as our slim budget let us, and last December, I found myself editing the thing. Then in January, I started hearing rumblings of discontent coming from my old home—trickles of tasty, delicious gossip that arrived via old OCW contacts and occasional LA Observed postings. The OC Weekly editor announced his resignation, followed in relatively quick succession by a slew of editorial staffers. It was a time of serious drama. Maybe you heard.
"Wow," the IE Weekly publisher (another OC Weekly alum) and I would tell each other. "Sure glad we don't work there anymore."
The ones who split wound up starting a new paper in Long Beach. Whatever the reasons they had for leaving, I'm sure they seemed valid at the time. Some of their outgoing comments, though, were unfairly morose. "This paper will be a very different place a year from now, and I'm not particularly interested in being the last rat off," one of them wrote in a farewell column. Well, I'm sure that made the staffers who chose to stay—Gustavo Arellano, Nick Schou and R. Scott Moxley among them—feel swell.
So when I decided to return to OC Weekly in July and take the managing editor's job, I had a few minor concerns about what I was walking back into. But what I knew for certain was this: The working environment was absolutely going to be better than what I remembered (and I'm not saying that just because they built me a spiffy new office). Certain mercurial personalities were no longer around; the stories I could tell—and have told! The new editor, Ted Kissell, wasn't going to ever call anyone on the editorial staff "comrade." ("Viejo," maybe.) And another guy, Dave Segal, had my old job—let him go see the five-band screamo bill at Chain Reaction. (Actually, Dave, don't—that shit'll burn off both your ears.)
Christ, who wouldn't come back? And they were gonna pay me how much?
I've since found that all the horror stories I'd heard about New Times/Village Voice Media were grossly exaggerated, even laughable, particularly the oft-repeated one about a "frat-boy" atmosphere that pervades all its papers. I've been back for a while now and have yet to experience anything close to that description. I always thought that was more apropos of the old OC Weekly anyway, especially when we'd do things like run hot bikini babes on our covers for three weeks in a row.
A lot here has changed, and yeah, this is a different paper, but one I prefer to think of as having 50 percent less fat. And in some ways, it's almost like I never left. Nick, Gustavo and Moxley are still here, kicking ass as always, though I guess Gustavo and I won't be going to any more afternoon Angels games—dude's on the road about as often as the team is these days. Copy goddess Patrice Marsters is here, still holding everything together like Elmer's. And all the new folks are sweating and grinding out great stuff, too, often penning stories that only fresh sets of eyes and ears could uncover. (See, this is why change is good.) I still get e-mails from record labels who were too lazy to ever remove my name from their publicity lists, as well as lovely hate mail from stories I wrote eons ago (hey, Chick-fil-A freaks: Get a life!). And we're still afflicting the powerful like we've always done—Zac Efron, you're going down!
So, wow, I'm sure glad I'm working here again.
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