Newsletter: Why the death of OC Weekly matters

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Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, Dec. 10, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Orange County’s storied alt weekly abruptly announced its own demise in a tweet.

After nearly a quarter-century raising hell behind the Orange Curtain, OC Weekly would be no more, effective immediately.

In keeping with the broader narrative (read: slow demise) of alternative newspapers around the country, OC Weekly’s story had been far from rosy for a while. But even in its reduced form, the paper had remained a leading alternative voice in the region.

The closing of any regional outlet — particularly one that exposed misconduct at the local Sheriff’s Department and district attorney’s office, and held a mirror to the culture, chaos and complexities of a metropolitan area that is home to more than 3 million people — is always a deep loss to the communities it serves. But to fully understand why the Weekly closing is such a tragedy, one also has to understand something about Orange County from the early 1990s.


When the Weekly was founded, Orange County was one of the most covered places in America.

Not only was the Orange County Register thriving, but The Times also had a massive Orange County bureau led by Marty Baron, who now helms the Washington Post and is one of the few newspaper editors to have become a more or less household name in the decades that followed.

There was an intense newspaper war being waged between the Register and Times. Both papers had hundreds of staffers covering Orange County communities and fighting for scoops. The Register prided itself on having at least one story from every Orange County community in each day’s paper. The Times tried to connect O.C. to the rest of the world with in-depth stories. Both scored big scoops.

[Read the full story: “Orange County was once a battleground for an epic newspaper war. Now, journalism is fading fast” in the Los Angeles Times]

The rivalry was so heated that it once turned physical, with what one Times staffer called “bare-knuckles” tactics, as covered in the national press.

OC Weekly came to be during a golden age of newspapers, in a community that could support not one but two huge papers, plus a blooming alternative weekly.

But you already know how this story goes. The fortunes of newspapers turned dark, and the institutions that once brawled for competing scoops have crumbled into shadows of their former selves.

In that 1990s era of thriving coverage, reporters were keeping an eye on dozens of cities, school districts, planning boards and other government agencies. Today, the Register is a fraction of what it once was, and The Times slashed its Orange County coverage even more dramatically.

When Baron took over the Orange County Edition of The Times in 1993, two years before the founding of OC Weekly, The Times’ Orange County Edition had a staff of 200 reporters, editors, artists and photographers. Now, most of the coverage is provided by The Times’ small community news arm.


There is still some great journalism coming out of Orange County, such as the Register’s groundbreaking expose of abuse in USA Swimming, dogged muckraking from OC Weekly and nonprofit newsroom the Voice of OC, and Times narrative blockbusters including Framed, Dirty John and Detective Trapp.

But there is simply less and less of it. Even as the region has continued to grow in size, the number of reporters there has plummeted. And it’s hard to imagine what important stories are not being told, in Orange County and elsewhere, with far fewer reporters blanketing city halls and out in communities.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:


Netflix dominated the Golden Globe nominations with strong showings from movies including “The Irishman” and “Marriage Story,” as well as series including “The Crown” and “Unbelievable.” The largest subscription streaming service collected 34 nominations for its shows and films from the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., surpassing rival studios in both categories. Los Angeles Times

Plus, here are the biggest snubs and surprises from the Golden Globe nominations. Los Angeles Times

Seeking to pressure retailers to accept recyclable containers from consumers, the state of California has proposed a $3.6-million penalty against the CVS pharmacy chain after dozens of its stores declined to redeem cans and bottles. Los Angeles Times



The definitive guide to the best restaurants in the region: Our food critics are here with this year’s edition of the 101 best L.A. restaurants. Kato, this year’s No. 1 pick, dwells inconspicuously in a West L.A. strip mall and is helmed by a 28-year-old San Gabriel Valley native. Los Angeles Times (Note: This story is available only to Times subscribers.)

And here’s how critics Bill Addison and Patricia Escárcega approached this year’s 101 Best Restaurants in Los Angeles list. Los Angeles Times

L.A. is an e-book borrower’s paradise. But a major publisher’s crackdown could hurt. Los Angeles Times

Dryland, a literary journal based in South-Central, tells stories that are often left out. Viva Padilla started the journal because she wanted the neighborhood she grew up in to have a literary outlet. Los Angeles Times

Silver Lake’s first boutique hotel has opened. Here’s a look at the pool and rooms. Eastsider LA


Your support helps us deliver the news that matters most. Subscribe to the Los Angeles Times.


Here’s what Sen. Kamala Harris’ swift exit from the Democratic primary race means for her political future: “By quitting when she did, Harris avoided embarrassing losses in several early contests and, most important, her home state of California, preserving her status as a leading vice presidential prospect and positioning her as a strong candidate for a place in the Cabinet, such as attorney general, in a Democratic administration.” Los Angeles Times

One byproduct of Rep. Devin Nunes’ very visible role in the impeachment process? A huge bump in fundraising for Phil Arballo, the Central Valley congressman’s Democratic challenger. Fresno Bee


A Muslim high school student said she was assaulted last week in a targeted attack at her campus in Elk Grove, Calif. Police have launched an investigation. Los Angeles Times


A Newport Beach woman has agreed to plead guilty in the college admissions scandal. Karen Littlefair is the 36th parent charged in the admissions scandal by the U.S. attorney’s office in Massachusetts. Los Angeles Times


Amid the wasteland of the Salton Sea, a miraculous but challenging oasis is born. Thousands of acres of exposed lake bed have become, of all things, the unintended beneficiaries of lush marshlands that are homes for endangered birds and fish at the outlets of agricultural and urban runoff that used to flow directly into the Salton Sea. Los Angeles Times

An egret soars through lush marshlands that have formed at the Salton Sea.
(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

Southern California will get a chance to dry out this week after a string of storms dumped rain and snow across the region over the last few weeks. Los Angeles Times



God, thirty-foot fountains, a faux Wailing Wall and a 4-D motion theater: Welcome to Legacy International Center, a $190-million Bible-themed resort in Mission Valley. San Diego Union-Tribune

Get a $10,000 bonus for leaving the Bay Area? A handful of small and midsize tech firms are turning Bay Area dissatisfaction into a recruiting tool. Mercury News

Elon Musk hit a traffic pylon with his new Cybertruck after taking the dystopian-looking vehicle to dinner at Nobu Malibu. Gizmodo

The decision to end a cherished “Older Adults” program at a San Francisco community college has sparked shock and outrage. The decades-old program serves more than 2,000 people who are primarily in their 70s and 80s and offers free, noncredit classes tailored to that age group. San Francisco Chronicle


Los Angeles: partly sunny, 68. San Diego: partly sunny, 66. San Francisco: cloudy, 55. San Jose: cloudy, 59. Sacramento: cloudy, 56. More weather is here.



Today’s California memory comes from Marlene Bowman:

“I was born in L.A. in 1945, moved out to the sticks (Sunland-Tujunga) in 1952 when my parents purchased a brand-new tract home financed with a CalVet loan for $11,500. In 1967, three days after graduating from UCLA, I got married and moved to VA. In March 2003, I was traveling from Ohio with our youngest son to visit my mother still living in that same house. When the Greyhound bus made an early morning stop in Barstow, our son disembarked, surveyed the surroundings on a typically glorious morning and proclaimed, ‘If this is California, I am never leaving!’ ”

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.