Michael Sigman spent nearly two decades at the LA Weekly, departing as president and publisher in 2002 when management at Village Voice Media decided to make a change. He's now a music publisher and has consulted for Southland Publishing, owners of CityBeat and the Pasadena Weekly as well as other papers. I asked him via email what the ownership takeover by its former adversaries at New Times (reported last night) will mean for the LA Weekly:
LA Weekly has always been, proudly, a paper of the left. Its political/cultural stance has informed not only its opinion pieces and endorsements, but also its choice of news stories, its arts coverage, even the tone of its calendar listings. There's always been lots of diversity among Weekly writers and editors, but the core voice of the paper has been recognizably progressive. And this voice has also played a major role -- at least it did until I left in 2002 -- in the culture of the paper, influencing everything from management style to charitable endeavors to involvement with the community.
With New Times in control, I think that will change significantly. New Times is a far more top-down organization than VVM. The Weekly's editor will report to Mike Lacey, a passionate editor who's made no secret over the years -- especially during the time he oversaw LA New Times -- of his editorial vision, including his contempt for the Weekly's brand of journalism. And beyond editorial content, the way that New Times does business -- with all kinds of centralized, specific systems and methods of how to do just about everything -- can't help but be a shock to the Weekly's system.
When New Times takes over a paper, they frequently make immediate, dramatic changes in personnel and procedures. They've never run anything as big as LA Weekly or Village Voice, and since they are smart operators, the changes this time will undoubtedly be more gradual. But a year from now LA Weekly will likely be a very different paper, with a very different culture.
In a 2003 story in the LA Weekly, Sigman said that when New Times published a free paper in Los Angeles it tried to kill off the Weekly:
New Times Los Angeles [paid] relatively high salaries to snare able journalists and competed with the Weekly — and sometimes the L.A. Times — for stories, distribution and advertising dollars.
“New Times spent a fortune on staff and promotion,” said former L.A. Weekly publisher Michael Sigman, who is now a music publisher. “New Times tried to kill the Weekly head-on with the same demographic, just by thinking they were better and sharper and knew the town better. And that was a mistake.”