An Oral History of OC Weekly on the Occasion of Its 20th Anniversary: An Introduction


A friend who recently moved back to Portland after a few years in OC explained before she left, "You know those shoppers at the Korean department store that collapsed, where the water pipes had been cracking, the floor was buckling, and they just ignored it and kept shopping till they were crushed? That's the way it feels to me here."

The county's broke. Everyone with money or reason has hauled ass out of here for saner climes. Our sports teams abandon us. Our military bases close. Our social services attrit. We catch fire. We get flooded. Carl's burgers splatter on our shoes! So, okay, we're in hell, which at least goes a long way toward explaining why Bob Dornan represents us.
--Jim Washburn, in his first Lost In OC column, Sept. 15, 1995

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An Oral History of OC Weekly, Part 1: Sept. 15, 1995-Sept. 2000

Stern Publishing--owned by Leonard Stern, a pet-food magnate whose Hartz Mountain corporation controlled 70 percent of the pet-supply market--bought the Village Voice, the nation's oldest alternative weekly, in 1983. In 1994, Stern purchased the LA Weekly, which then set its sights on Orange County. . . .

Michael Sigman, LA Weekly/OC Weekly publisher, 1983-2002: The crass but simple answer [why OC Weekly was created] is that big advertisers in LA Weekly like Tower Records said they'd advertise in an Orange County edition. Before Leonard bought us, there were several years of exploratory machinations and research, but we never had the funding or authorization. And even though other people had explored it and had decided it wasn't such a good idea, it seemed obvious to us that it had potential. There was never any question in my mind that we could do a successful paper. After we were bought, the mandate was "Let's get OC Weekly started as soon as possible." I remember having serious conversations with [the late New York Times media critic] David Carr about the position [of editor], and there were probably one or two others, but I can't remember anyone else being a serious candidate. And then there was Will.

Nathan Callahan, OC Weekly contributor, 1995-2004: Will and I had worked on a little zine back in the early '90s, The County, and we tried to cover OC as much as we could. It came out sporadically and slammed everyone from Irvine City Councilman Dave Baker to Jerry Brown. And when [Will] heard about the editor job, it went from there.

Will Swaim, OC Weekly founding editor, 1995-2007: I was working at Entrepreneur, a business magazine, and a friend of mine said she had heard of LA Weekly starting something in Orange County. At the time, the landscape was littered with a whole bunch of attempts to start alt-weeklies here, and they had all been grotesquely underfunded or weren't very good.

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An Oral History of OC Weekly, Part 2: September 2000-September 2005

The Weekly began its second five years in September 2000 with a new ownership group. In two months, a new president is elected--kind of. In one year, two buildings fall in New York, and the build-up to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq would follow, and then the bombs rain. But through the national and international turmoil, the Weekly keeps chugging, reflecting on big issues while still focusing on local ones.

Michael Sigman: Leonard [Stern] was a business genius. He sold the paper at the absolute top of the market, right before the dot-com crash, for a tremendous amount of money. And the people who bought it were heavily leveraged, and it was making a lot of money, but they bought it based on it making more money. LA Weekly and OC Weekly still made a tremendous amount of money for the next two years, but it wasn't enough. So they made a lot of changes throughout the company. Pretty much got rid of everyone. [Sigman left the company in 2002.]

Shelle Murach, PR/special events coordinator, 1998-2003: Under Stern, we were owned by that family, and they were fantastic and very supportive. The paper was growing, there was a lot of support in Orange County, and we really expanded into a lot of things we wanted to do. Then we were sold to Village Voice Media, and it was just different. Things were becoming more corporate, and there were a lot of impacts because of what the economy was going through. After 9/11, we saw a huge decline in advertising, so there were a lot of changes as far as the whole industry.

In April 2000, a writer who would later make an impact on the county appeared.

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An Oral History of OC Weekly, Part 3: September 2005-October 2010

OC Weekly's 10th-anniversary edition, a 154-page tome, hit the streets Sept. 9, 2005, as one of America's most beloved cities was drowning. Rebecca Schoenkopf wrote the introductory column, subheaded "It's hard to celebrate 10 years of the Weekly when you're busy hating the president." Little did the Weeklings know the paper would soon descend into its own murky waters.

Matt Coker: One thing they always told us is "We'll never sell you guys to the New Times." We had heard all these horror stories about the New Times. A big part of it was Lowery and Wielenga had worked for New Times Los Angeles and had horrible experiences. And the two chains seemed to hate each other. They seemed bitter rivals. [David] Schneiderman always said, "Don't worry. We'll never sell you to the New Times." So what happened? They sold us to the New Times.

Technically, it was a merger. On Oct. 24, 2005, Village Voice Media, which owned OC Weekly and five other papers, announced it had reached an agreement to be acquired by New Times Media, which began in 1971 with a paper in Phoenix and had grown to 11 across the country. Once sworn adversaries, the two chains had apparently grown closer since 2002, when a deal they'd reached to shut down papers in Los Angeles and Cleveland was blocked by the Justice Department, which charged them with collusion. The new company retained the name Village Voice Media.

Coker: I don't know. Maybe once their lawyers started talking, they started liking each other more?

Michael Sigman: I wasn't remotely surprised. They had been salivating for LA Weekly for many years and had started a paper in Los Angeles to compete with it, which was not successful. It was their dream to build a national network of papers, but without Los Angeles and New York, they could never have accomplished that. They were serious bidders when Leonard [Stern] sold the papers [in 2000], but they weren't the winner. But they kept trying, and to me, it was inevitable that it would happen.

Rebecca Schoenkopf: First they fucked up The Village Voice, then they moved onto LA Weekly. We thought we were safe. We were very profitable. We had a very lean operation, but even so, we weren't doing it in their very formulaic, jigsaw-puzzle sort of way, so that was not acceptable.

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An Oral History of OC Weekly, Part 4: October 2010-???

In which the helm of the Weekly returns to the hands of some O.G.s, new voices with new stories to tell arrive, much hell is raised anew, and while fuck is still printed, pendejo now reigns supreme

As the Weekly began the fourth part of its 20-year history, times were tough. The dual forces of the Internet and the Great Recession, which were beginning to eviscerate nearly every print-based publication, were keenly felt. The staff had never been trimmer. The page count had never been smaller. Morale had never been lower. But those who were there, as well as those who joined, remained committed to documenting stories that reflected and praised, castigated and satirized the county they were in. And though things would become even more tumultuous over the next year, a page was about to be turned. . . .

Matt Coker: I didn't have the big problem with Ted that everyone did. Maybe the biggest thing is that it always seemed he said no to every story I pitched: "No, no, no." It was like you had to change the editor's mind. Obviously, he said yes to some things, but that's what it felt like to me.

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Gustavo Arellano on Why OC Weekly Matters

Courtesy Gustavo Arellano
Gustavo Arellano is editor of OC Weekly and author of the ¬°Ask a Mexican! column. He once applied for a job at the Orange County Register--best non-hire ever.

This saw OC Weekly when we debuted in 1995: the master-planned communities, the suburban land rolling westward wave by dense wave from the foothills, seemingly boring then, teeming with conservatives and MILFs about the Balboa Bay Club and the beaches whose water in time would become poo-filled--the wild men, too, the activists and the Costa Mesa 500, who had to be a little wild also to endure and survive and so mark the wilderness with the proofs of their tough survival: defeating Bob Dornan, Memphis Cafe, SanTana and Little Saigon. Orange County: the dark and vapid ground.

Sorry, William Faulkner: I just had to imitate the intro to your legendary 1955 Sports Illustrated essay about the Kentucky Derby because it perfectly encapsulates the essence of this paper: bombastic. Swaggering. Always swinging for the fences and connecting, whether by Ruthian slam or Bad News Bears hilarity. Arcane. Historical. And simply brilliant.

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OC Weekly Founder Will Swaim on OC as a Place of Grace, Not an Intelligentsia Joke

Will Swaim is the founding editor of OC Weekly and currently vice president of journalism for the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity. Call him Guillermo.

So these two frantic, bewhiskered woodsmen hack their way out the back window of the snowbound cabin in which they've been trapped for days--stuck inside this little hut as if the frozen center of a novelty-cocktail ice cube--and the older one says to the younger, "Follow the path."

The kid's head swivels 180 degrees in two directions: nothing but hip-high, trackless snow. He turns to his elder and says, "What path?"

The old guy says, "Start walking, turn around in 10 feet and look back. You'll see it."

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What Made the Weekly Great Is That We Were Always Mr. Nice Guys--Seriously!

Categories: Cover Story

Steve Lowery wrote the column Diary of a Mad County from 2003 to 2007. He is also the only person in the world louder than Gustavo Arellano.

Babies, originally I was going to tell you about what I've been doing since I left the Weekly nearly 10 years ago, but there's really not much to tell: I helped start a wonderful weekly in Long Beach that eventually folded (goddamn Bush), and then went on to freelance writing, a treadmill of a career path akin to being an oarsman on a slave ship who, having staged a successful mutiny, declares "Now we will show them how free men row!"

Instead of all that, I thought it better to write something handy, "news you can use" being quite the seller in today's freelance market, whether it's simply handy information, e.g., "Nine Beautiful Celebrities Who Married Ugly Spouses," or cautionary tales, "Eleven Sexy Celebrities and Their Ugly Children." Where the Weekly is concerned, what you need to know is that in my 30 years of journalism, it remains not only the best publication I have ever worked for, but also the one staffed with the nicest people.

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Commie Girl Returns to OC Weekly for ONE ISSUE ONLY!


Rebecca Schoenkopf is your Wonkette over at Wonkette. Make sure to subscribe TODAY!

Greetings, Orange Countianos! It is I, your Commie Girl, returned to you for one week only! "OH, MY GOD," you wheezed if you are old, and then you busted a nut (gross). "Um, who?" you are sneering if you're a millennial, and you are sneering it real snotty-like because your "pal" baby boomer parents never taught you to RESPECT YOUR ELDERS AND PRETTIERS.

Here's who I am, PUNK: I ran this joint back in the day--yes, I did; ask anyone as long as that anyone's me--when there was no Internet and no political assfucking blogs for freedom, and all of Orange County hung on my every column about whether or not I had syphilis.

So . . . hiiiiiii! Anything new since March 2007? Why, what happened in March 2007, you are probably asking because you forgot to read Joel Beers' 30,000-word screed (I am assuming it is a screed) on the fascinating inside story of OC Weekly through the years, which probably isn't even that fascinating honestly--I mean, where are the drugs and the fuckings? (Okay, I maybe fucked some people.)

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The 20 Best Lines From Matt Coker's Much-Missed A Clockwork Orange Column

The following appeared in Matt Coker's column A Clockwork Orange, which ran from 1996 to 2003. His hilarity still appears daily on Navel Gazing.

Nov. 21, 1996: "There's got to be a morning after," a wooden Carol Lynley lip-synchs in The Poseidon Adventure. Since the sappy tune comes from a disaster flick, it's the perfect post-election theme song for some of A Clockwork Orange's favorite politicians, like Curt Pringle. Hah! Anal rashes have lasted longer than the Garden Grove Republican's Assembly speakership.

Nov. 29, 1996: Fox News at Ten unleashed a bombshell: "Thousands of Southland teens have found a new place to party," anchorwoman Susan Hirasuna said with a startled gleam in her eye. "They call it TJ--for Tijuana." Whoa, teens in Tijuana? And they use this sort of hipster code word, TJ? Now that's news.

Feb. 21, 1997: In Newport Beach, you can pull your luxury car out of your gated temple of self-indulgence in the morning; pop over to Newport Center to have your nails done, the bikini wax applied and the fat sucked out of your thighs; and still keep that noon lunch date with the bitch screwing your husband.

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