Mara Shalhoup will be the next editor of LA Weekly, starting Feb. 16. Since 2011 she has been editor in chief of Chicago Reader, and before that she was a reporter and editor at Creative Loafing in Atlanta. "I might not know this vast and complex city yet, but it will be a privilege to explore it in the most exciting way: by working with the staff on compelling narratives, provocative criticism and boundary-pushing experiments both in print and online," she says in the announcement made to LA Weekly staffers and posted on the paper's website. "We're gonna have fun." She succeeds Sarah Fenske, who returned to St. Louis last year.
Voice Media Group announced to its Los Angeles staff today that, as ofFebruary 16, 2015, Mara Shalhoup will be the next editor of LA Weekly.
Since 2011 Shalhoup has served as editor in chief of Chicago Reader,where she has focused on growing the digital audience of the legacy altweekly while reinvigorating its print content and upholding its commitment to longform journalism.
"L.A. has countless stories to tell, and the Weekly has shown extraordinary skill in unearthing so many great ones — and finding new ways to expand the art of storytelling,” says Shalhoup. “I'm ecstatic to be tapped to lead this savvy team, which includes one writer with whom I've worked in the past and many other writers and editors I've admired. I might not know this vast and complex city yet, but it will be a privilege to explore it in the most exciting way: by working with the staff on compelling narratives, provocative criticism and boundary-pushing experiments both in print and online. We're gonna have fun."
Shalhoup built her early career on hard news and investigative reporting and editing at Creative Loafing in Atlanta. In her ten years there she took on challenging assignments: tracking the displacement of thousands of families from public housing, earning the trust of a prostitute turned triple-murderer, and piecing together the definitive story of a drug enterprise/music empire. She became the paper’s top editor in2010, the same year St. Martin’s Press published BMF: The Rise and Fall of Big Meech and the Black Mafia Family, her book about the Detroit brothers whose $270 million cocaine operation helped launch some of the country’s most successful hip-hop artists.
Shalhoup was named 2007 Journalist of the Year by the Atlanta Press Club and was twice a Livingston Award finalist. Other honors recognizing excellence in feature writing, investigative journalism, and digital storytelling have come from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia, the Society of Professional Journalists, and the Association for Women in Communications.
At the Reader, the newsroom had just voted to unionize, but that paper's story says Shalhoub was only mildly opposed to the union vote and had been already looking at the LA Weekly job. From the Reader story:
"I have accepted an offer to become the next editor of the LA Weekly," she said in a note to her staff. "My last day at the Reader will be Friday, February 13—which might be creepy except that, statistically speaking, the 13th of the month is more likely to fall on a Friday than any other day of the week." (This reference demonstrated Shalhoup’s mastery of Reader lore, as it linked to a story we'd published when she was three years old, one of many about which it could be said not another paper on earth would print this thing.)
Her note went on, "I recognize that the timing of this announcement is coming on the heels of your decision to unionize. I had accepted this job prior to last week's vote but didn't want to tell you sooner—because I didn't want my decision to persuade you one way or the other."
She tells me that after hearing that editor Sarah Fenske intended to leave the Weekly, she inquired about the job before she had any idea her Reader staff was attempting to organize. That was something Shalhoup advised against in editorial meetings, but not vehemently, and no bridges were burned. "I did not feel challenged working with a union going forward," she says—and in fact, if that's a dire fate, it's not one she’s avoided: her future staff in LA is represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.
"There's a time in life—and if you live in Chicago, that time is January—when the possibility of a new adventure becomes irresistible," she told her staff. "I love this city. I love working with all of you. I love the Reader. I also love exploring places I never imagined I'd be able to go. That's the reason I came here four years ago. And it's the reason I'm leaving now."
"I like an adventure," she says.
Shalhoub, 38, gets a good review from Jim Kirk, the publisher and editor in chief of Sun-Times Media, owner of the Chicago Reader. "Among her many successes, she led the Reader through a digital redesign that resulted in tremendous audience growth across our digital platforms. Her commitment to the editorial integrity and heritage of the Reader was evident throughout her tenure and helped the Reader win numerous prestigious awards from various organizations. We wish her nothing but the best as she goes on to lead LA Weekly. They are lucky to have her.”
Shalhoub's Twitter profile calls her the author of "BMF: The Rise and Fall of Big Meech and the Black Mafia Family" and "thrower of rock 'n' roll garden parties." An endorsement on Twitter from LA Weekly restaurant critic Besha Rodell: