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

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PROLOGUE

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

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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

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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

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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-???

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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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Random Things Famous People Have Said About OC Weekly

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We could fill a whole issue with valentines and nastiness written about us, but we've only got a rail. The following are just some of the many things famous people and publications have said about us over the years.

"A paper for fags and communists." --Anonymous Republican staffer, printed in the Weekly's first-anniversary issue

"That paper is Satan's instrument. That is an evil paper spreading infected bodily fluids all over this county." --Former U.S. Congressman Bob Dornan

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OC's Getting Rid of Mississippi's Flag--What About Our Other Markers to the Confederacy and Klan?

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Y'all come back now, ya here?

It's been fun to see the Orange County Board of Supervisors, the Orange County Bar Association, and now the Orange County Human Relations trying to outdo themselves in getting Mississippi's flag taken down from the Santa Ana Civic Center. REAL brave to take on Mississippi, the Hemet of America. How courageous to get offended at the Confederate flag, the ultimate symbol of the ultimate losers. Why, if we just had such conviction in government, legal, and nonprofit circles, we'd eradicate racism forever!

Please. Betcha those groups don't have the stones to confront the true racist menace littering Orange County's landscape: monuments to the Confederacy and the Ku Klux Klan.


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White-Supremacists Stickers Found on Electrical Box in Yorba Linda

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Gracias, source!
Whiny whities....

If you told me to guess in which city were white-power stickers found on an electrical box, I'd most likely say "Yorba Linda." Huntington Beach gets all the infamy for its neo-Nazi losers, but the Weekly mostly ran out those idiots to Menifee last decade. Nowadays, the newer generation of gaba racists tends to live in majority-white neighborhoods that are wealthy but not Coto de Caza-wealthy and slowly diversifying--in other words, Yorba Linda.

So when we got a tip that white-power stickers were found on an electrical box, I guessed "Yorba Linda." And I guessed right--someone give me a Donald Trump piƱata as a prize, stat!


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Joseph Jackson Jr. Made Civil Rights History as a Member of Mississippi's Tougaloo Nine

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Mugshot memories
"You know you don't belong here!" a worker yelled at 23-year-old Joseph Jackson Jr. as he walked into the Jackson, Mississippi, main public library on March 27, 1961, to try to desegregate it. "You go back to your library!"

Dozens of angry, white faces surrounded the slight, bespectacled, nervous student as he made his way to the information desk and into the front lines of war. In a couple of months, freedom riders would get arrested by the hundreds in the city; the following year, James Meredith tried to enroll at the University of Mississippi with the help of U.S. Marshals only to have a deadly riot erupt around him. The year after that saw Jackson weather a sit-in at Woolworth and the assassination of legendary activist Medgar Evers. And in 1964, the murder of three civil-rights workers brought in the federal government and led Nina Simone to pen her scintillating smackdown of the Magnolia State, "Mississippi Goddam."

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Confederate Flag Flies in Laguna Beach...Art Exhibit

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As South Carolina considers taking down its Confederate flag, the stars and bars battle flags fly in Laguna Beach starting Saturday--if by "battle flags" you mean "images of the Confederate flag in two paintings" and by "Laguna Beach" you mean "Laguna Art Museum" and by "flying" you meaning "hanging on walls."

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