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LA Weekly staff is slashed as Semanal Media finishes buying the publication

LA Weekly staff is slashed as Semanal Media finishes buying the publication
LA Weekly's latest Best of L.A. issue, which came out in October. Nine of the 13 members of the editorial staff lost their jobs Wednesday as Voice Media Group completed its sale of the publication.

LA Weekly’s staff was gutted Wednesday as Voice Media Group completed its sale of the alternative newsweekly to a newly created company, Semanal Media.

Nine of the 13 members of the editorial staff lost their jobs, including all the top editors and all but one of the staff writers.

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“To have such deep, devastating cuts — it’s beyond anything we could have ever fathomed,” said Mara Shalhoup, who until Wednesday was the editor of LA Weekly. Publisher Matt Cooperstein lost his job too, as did some staffers on the business and marketing teams, she said.

What will happen next is unclear.

Shalhoup said the print edition due out Thursday is already finished, and her team had prepared to hand off additional articles that are in various states of completion. But if there is to be a print edition next week or a steady stream of stories online, any new staffers will need to figure out a lot of things very quickly.

“I would find it very hard to know what to do in the next few days, given the amount of institutional knowledge that’s walking out the door,” Shalhoup said.

Brian Calle, who will be managing LA Weekly’s operations for Semanal, confirmed that the sale closed Wednesday but declined to provide any details about what to expect, saying he wanted to talk to his staff first. This month, he spoke enthusiastically about the publication and laid out his hopes to turn it into “the cultural center” of the city.

Semanal investor and Chief Executive David Welch, a Los Angeles attorney known for representing members of the cannabis industry, declined to comment.

None of Semanal’s other financial backers or managers have disclosed their identities.

Wednesday’s layoffs took effect immediately. They included managing editor Drew Tewksbury; Gwynedd Stuart, the deputy editor for arts and culture; music editor Andy Hermann; food editor Katherine Spiers; staff writers Jason McGahan and Dennis Romero; film critic April Wolfe and multimedia designer Garry Santos.

The only editorial staff members remaining are creative director Darrick Rainey, copy chief Lisa Horowitz, writer Hillel Aron and listings editor Falling James.

Shalhoup and former food editor Spiers said nobody from Semanal had talked to them or requested information that would ease a transition.

“I don’t know who’s replacing me or if anyone’s replacing me,” said Spiers, who was responsible every week for writing five stories and working with freelancers to produce another five stories.

Spiers said she plans to give a list of freelance stories in progress to remaining staffers and hope those stories are either published by LA Weekly or bought by other outlets.

Editorial staffers who were part of the International Assn. of Machinists & Aerospace Workers union are receiving severance pay from Voice Media Group. The company said Oct. 31 that because Semanal is buying only LA Weekly’s assets, Semanal will not be bound by the union contract.

Voice Media Group announced in January that it was putting LA Weekly up for sale. It said at the time that the publication, founded in 1978, was still profitable.

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LA Weekly’s print edition is distributed throughout the city and is free for readers to pick up. It was once thick with news and culture articles, criticism, columns and calendar listings — and ads. But the paper and its newsroom have shrunk in recent years as news publications struggle to make money in the internet age.

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