Who Should Buy the OC Weekly? Tim Keck of Index Newspapers LLC — Publisher of Seattle’s ‘The Stranger’

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Stranger cover

If you’ve never read “The Stranger.” you’ll be startled by how great it is. Could THEY buy the Weekly?  The “NEW TO TOWN!” caption?  Just a coincidence!

With a great owner, a disciplined editorial staff, and an improved sensibility, the OC Weekly is a money-making proposition.  It’s even more than just that:  it would be capable of huge local and national influence due to the continued degradation of The Register and the resulting news crater it leaves.  (Disappearance of the Register’s editorial writers would only leave some small pops and an irritating sucking sound.)  The problems with the Weekly are less in its star trio of writers, Gustavo ArellanoR. Scott Moxley, and Matt Coker — not that some of them are without flaws –than with an ownership that doesn’t really seem to care what they do.  Arellano, for example, can tone down his excesses and quirks when he wants to, as with his radio interviews — but why should he when his bosses are apparently happy with his just being a click-bait character?  Moxley can do excellent work on crime and corruption, but doesn’t seem to have a skeptical editor demanding that he back up his (often pre-determined) claims.  Coker — well, let’s just pretend that I said something negative or skeptical about Coker so that he doesn’t feel excluded.

The new perfect owner for the Weekly would be Index Newspapers LLC and the right publisher is Tim Keck.  Over the past 20 years, they have made The Stranger into a model alt-weekly: intelligent without being pedantic; snarky without being immature; political without being dismissive.  They don’t snipe from the corners; they wade into the middle of controversy and engage it.

(And they know how to EDIT!)

The Stranger is everything that an alt-weekly should be — everything that the OC Weekly could be.  Not only are they the right people to wade into OC and shake up its journalism, but they would electrify the political scene here.  While Seattle is whiter and a lot less Latino than OC, what the two areas have in common are vibrant and wealthy LGBT communities, making it a natural fit here.  DAN SAVAGE himself was the Editor-in-Chief of The Stranger when I lived in Seattle, ably assisted (and probably led a good part of the time by David Schmader, an excellent interesting and thoughtful writer about the local political and cultural scene), as well as an actor, Film Editor, and — if I recall correctly — even Managing Editor back when I lived in Seattle and was able to purchase his shoes cheaply at The Stranger’s first-ever charitable auction.

Stranger - Schamder Shoes

These — these are DAVE SCHMADER’S ROCKPORTS, suckers!  I just WEAR ’em!

The Stranger — perhaps ironically, given the name it shares with existentialist Albert Camus’s best-known novel — is the opposite of nihilist; the writers make no bones about caring deeply about their community and celebrating (but also critically evaluating) those who would try to improve it.  It also performs the magic trick of being able to take itself quite seriously while not taking itself too-seriously; in other words, it is earnest without being smug.  It is a “punch-up” publication rather than a “punch-down” one; Dan Savage’s often brilliant column is a great example of its sensibility, just as Arellano’s is an only somewhat sanitized version of the current Weekly’s.  New owners might convince Arellano that there’s more to writing than miming a drunken bar fight from the safety of one’s office chair, a level to which he easily sinks when left on his own.  He could be seriously great if encouraged to act less like what our Ricardo Toro describes as a Cantinflas figure — and under the influence of The Stranger I’ll bet that he would be.

As for what would be in it for The Stranger’s current owners — well, let me flog an often-flogged donkey here.  Orange County is the population of Iowa.  It’s almost half the population of the state of Washington — about exactly half if you throw in Long Beach (as one should.)  OC + LB is almost exactly the population of the entire Seattle Metropolitan area — but in only 10% of the land.  It’s probably comparable to Metro Seattle in wealth; it has comparable universities (UCI and U of Washington are both great schools; Cal State Fullerton and Cal State Long Beach compare favorably to Western Washington and Evergreen State (respectively slightly north and slightly south of the Metropolitan Area; our private colleges are comparable to theirs.  Oh yeah — and we’re right next to Los Angeles, where they could also expand (and probably a lot more effectively than Aaron Kushner did.)

With a bit over 3 million people (or 3½, including Long Beach) OC has more than enough readers available to enjoy The Stranger’s take on events.  More to the point, there are enough out here to lead advertisers to put in more ads than the alt-weeklies traditional (and the Weekly’s overwhelming) sex, drugs, and music ads aimed at mid-20s males.  Put The Stranger’s sensibility in Orange County and I think that they would make a killing.  In Seattle, a dozen years ago, everyone with an alt-culture perspective was reading it — and ignoring its competitor, the Seattle Times, so completely that it eventually devolved into an empty shell.

And then there’s politics.  The Stranger would become the focal point of progressive reform here.  They would go after corrupt and nominal Democrats with fierce abandon.  They’ve never ever had the wealth of local targets for criticism available in Darrell Issa, Dana Rohrabacher, Ed Royce, and MeMe Walters — and they would probably more effectively criticize Loretta Sanchez when she drifts off plumb as well.  They’d like Linda Sanchez and Alan Lowenthal, I expect — but not uncritically.  As for the dirt in OC — they, already a Pulitzer-Prize-winning publication, would go absolutely apeshit, like a raccoon in clover-scented garbage.  Orange County is like a supersaturated solution ready to crystallize if someone plants the seed — and The Stranger could do it.  I can’t think of a progressive publication better attuned to the sensibility of progressives and left-Libertarians in Orange County.

OC would pose challenges to The Stranger as well, because it would have to come to grips with the predominant (but largely politicall inert) local Latino community.  (Our Asian community, still with a decent shot at becoming a majority of the County Board of Supervisors as a result of yesterday’s election, is also more powerful than Seattle’s despite the past predominance of Asian-American politicians like Gary Locke.)  That’s not a bad thing at all: in grappling with Orange County, The Stranger would be grappling with the precise demographic shifts that challenge the nation as a whole — and that would be great for them to be able to do.  It would raise their profile and influence nationally.

This is the right step for The Stranger and would be a great boost for Orange County.  I’m sold — and I hope that The Weekly will be as well.

Stranger - Ernie

More booty obtained for a song at The Stranger’s first action. Of course, I’m posting this here only to tell Gustavo that I really HADN’T intended to write about him twice in one week, but I didn’t know that he was going to be so deeply in the news today. So: Rock On, Cabrón!

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Deposed as Northern Vice Chair of DPOC in April 2014 (in violation of Roberts Rules) when his anti-corruption and pro-consumer work in Anaheim infuriated the Building Trades and Teamsters in spring 2014, who then worked with the lawless and power-mad DPOC Chair to eliminate his internal oversight. Expelled from DPOC in October 2018 (in violation of Roberts Rules) for having endorsed Spitzer over Rackauckas -- which needed to be done. None of his pre-putsch writings ever spoke for the Democratic Party at the local, county, state, national, or galactic level, nor do they now. One of his daughters co-owns a business offering campaign treasurer services to Democratic candidates and the odd independent. He is very proud of her. He doesn't directly profit from her work and it doesn't affect his coverage. (He does not always favor her clients, though she might hesitate to take one that he truly hated.) He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)