According to a Los Angeles Times story yesterday, Brian Calle is leaving his post as chief opinion writer for Southern California News Group, which owns the Orange County Register. His next job: taking over editorial management of LA Weekly, which has just been purchased by a mysterious entity titled Semanal LLC, one of whose investors is David Welch, a well-known local marijuana attorney.
After OC Weekly reporter Mary Carreon broke the news that Welch, who previously filed a lawsuit against several Santa Ana marijuana dispensaries, was the registered agent for Semanal LLC, speculation abounded that the marijuana industry, perhaps led by the deep-pocketed WeedMaps, was making a play to take over LA Weekly and turn it into a cannabis-centric publication. But in an interview with the Times yesterday, Calle, who described himself as a “free-market enthusiast” and stated that he hoped to turn the flailing paper into the “cultural center” of LA, denied the rumors, insisting that Welch was the only partner in the deal with any pot connection.
While the true nature of LA Weekly‘s new ownership remains unclear, the fact that Calle has been picked to head up the newspaper bodes ill for anyone who cares about the city of Los Angeles or its journalism. The paper has already suffered from years of decline under its previous owners, Voice Media Group, previously Village Voice Media and originally New Times, which purchased the LA Weekly as part of a merger with Village Voice Media, which used to own both LA Weekly and OC Weekly. (In the alt-journalism heyday of the early 2000s, New Times LA was the LA Weekly‘s bitter rival, and both publications consistently put out feisty columns and hard-hitting investigative news). But after LA Weekly became part of the newly-branded Village Voice Media mega-chain of alt-weeklies and moved from Hollywood to Culver City, it lost its relevance and gradually slid into listicle-driven click-bait journalism that has come to define the media noise of today’s digital age. (Full disclosure: I was an intern for LA Weekly back in 1992 when it was located on Hyperion Ave, and served as a freelancer for the publication for many years thereafter).
Back to Calle. He’s 37 and looks nice in a suit. (One can almost imagine him showing up for his first day on the job in a starched shirt and bow tie with a copy of Atlas Shrugged under his arm). For the Register, he’s written a seemingly endless screed of libertarian-slanted editorials, which, as is typical with libertarian politics, occasionally promote policies (like ending the prohibition of marijuana) that are completely reasonable and half of which are ideological tripe (charter schools will save our youth, etc.) But beyond that, and despite a dubious stint as a Chapman University journalism professor, he has almost no actual journalism experience, nor any connection whatsoever to Los Angeles.
Perhaps his greatest claim to fame is being included (just barely, as No. 25 in a 31-person list) in OC Weekly’s Orange County’s Scariest People of 2016. Here’s his blurb in its entirety:
“The Orange County Register editorial board boss oversaw three embarrassing gaffes this year that drew national attention. In January, he apologized after an editorial argued pro sports cheerleaders shouldn’t seek state classification as employees (as opposed to independent contractors) because the job has “fringe
benefits . . . such as working closely with” millionaire players. Then came a piece in March blasting Assemblymember Don Wagner for running against State Senator John Moorlach. Only problem? Wagner wasn’t running. The Reg swung and missed again in October, when it endorsed Ling-Ling Chang against Sukhee Kang for a State Assembly seat. But Kang wasn’t her opponent.”
Ouch! Three strikes and…let’s just say it’s a good thing Calle’s game isn’t baseball. As always with our nominations for Scariest People, the Weekly granted Calle a so-called “mitigating factor,” which is our way of pointing out something relatively benign about the folks on our shit-list. “Calle has luck,” we noted, “because despite these fuck-ups, [his bosses] promoted him to oversee the opinion pages at the chain’s 11 Southern California dailies.”
Apparently, given Calle’s recent promotion, we were more right about Calle’s “luck” than we could have guessed. And that, at least for those who still care about the fate of the LA Weekly, is a very scary thought indeed.
Award-winning investigative journalist Nick Schou is Editor of OC Weekly. He is the author of Kill the Messenger: How the CIA’s Crack Cocaine Controversy Destroyed Journalist Gary Webb (Nation Books 2006), which provided the basis for the 2014 Focus Features release starring Jeremy Renner and the L.A. Times-bestseller Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love’s Quest to bring Peace, Love and Acid to the World, (Thomas Dunne 2009). He is also the author of The Weed Runners (2013) and Spooked: How the CIA Manipulates the Media and Hoodwinks Hollywood (2016).