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LA Weekly's new owners are still a mystery, and people are demanding answers

LA Weekly's new owners are still a mystery, and people are demanding answers
LA Weekly's latest Best of L.A. issue came out in October.

LA Weekly was sold Wednesday, with all of its top editors and all but one of its writers laid off as the deal closed. A day later, the alternative newsweekly’s buyers are still shrouded in secrecy.

That secrecy is “appalling and offensive,” the president of the Society for Professional Journalists said Thursday, demanding public disclosure of the owners’ names.

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Semanal Media Group — a company that a group of investors created six weeks ago for the purpose of buying LA Weekly — is the publication’s official new owner.

According to documents filed with the California secretary of state’s office, Semanal is helmed by David Welch, a Los Angeles attorney known for representing members of the cannabis industry. Brian Calle, who was hired to manage LA Weekly’s operations, has said Welch also invested in Semanal.

None of Semanal’s other investors has disclosed their identities to the public.

Welch has repeatedly declined to speak to the Los Angeles Times or not returned calls.

Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of UC Berkeley’s law school, said Thursday that he has agreed to invest in Semanal, in part because he has “enormous admiration and respect” for Calle. For years, Chemerinsky — then the dean of UC Irvine’s law school — wrote a weekly column for the Orange County Register’s opinion pages, which Calle oversaw.

Chemerinsky said that he has not yet made the investment and that he does not know who the current investors are.

The Society for Professional Journalists rebuked the Semanal investors for their secrecy.

“In an era of rampant misinformation and distrust, it’s especially important that we do not allow the owners and backers of news organizations to remain a mystery,” Andrew Seaman, SPJ’s ethics committee chairperson, said in a statement. “We cannot allow this to become the norm.”

“There is no excuse for the owners of the LA Weekly to hide their identities, and they should be revealed immediately,” SPJ President Rebecca Baker said in the statement. “To not reveal yourselves is to treat your readers with less dignity than humans deserve and with less respect than democracy should demand. It is appalling and offensive.”

The national journalists group was not alone in advocating for answers.

On Wednesday night — after nine of the publication’s 13 editorial staffers were laid off and the Semanal deal closed — a post appeared on LA Weekly’s website with the headline “Who Owns L.A. Weekly?”

“It’s a good idea to know who is profiting in any situation. Why? So you can make educated decisions,” says the post by Keith Plocek, who teaches journalism at USC. From 2011 to 2014, Plocek worked at LA Weekly and its former parent company, Voice Media Group, and he has written some freelance articles for the publication.

“The new owners of L.A. Weekly don’t want you to know who they are,” the post says. “They are hiding from you.”

Plocek said in an email that he wrote the post because “everyone deserves to know who now owns the publication. It’s a question of transparency.”

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He did not respond to an email asking how the post came to be published on the website.

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