In a frankly creepy attempt to delegitimize those who have called for a boycott of L.A. Weekly, the publication’s new owners have launched a sparse yet inflammatory website aimed at its detractors. In what it is calling its #Speaktruth campaign, the new owners of L.A. Weekly are imploring their remaining supporters to fight back against “trolls and bullies” who are “calling for active bullying and harassment.”
The folks this website refers to as bullies are former L.A. Weekly supporters and staffers who object to the changes the paper has made since it was purchased by Semanal Media last fall. As recounted on the official website of the L.A. Weekly boycott, after the sale, the new owners fired nine out of the paper’s 13 editorial staff members, scaled back its original reporting, changed datelines on previously published articles, kept the identities of its new owners a secret, and attempted to replace paid writers with unpaid contributors, among other issues. The call to boycott L.A. Weekly — and just as importantly, encourage its advertisers to stop doing business with them — rose out of these changes and has been spearheaded by writers online.
The new #Speaktruth website does little to quell fears that a once-progressive outlet for in-depth local journalism has now been taken over by a group seeking to stamp out its challenges to power and homogenize it as Sinclair Broadcast Group has done in TV news. The grossness of the “campaign” lies in the Trumpian language it uses to attempt to discredit its critics:
“A small group of bullies is actively harassing and threatening local businesses, journalists, photographers, restaurants and others. They are attempting to silence free speech all seemingly because of political and economic motivations. They pose as professional journalists yet perpetuate lies, misinformation and, frankly, fake news.”
The equation of activists involved in protest efforts with bullies perpetrating harassment is nothing new to anyone who has been following American news over the past couple years. Coming from a publication in reference to its former writers, this move shows a new side to such insidiousness. The creepiness continues on #Speaktruth’s FAQ page, which mirrors the format of the FAQ page on boycottlaweekly.com, and the Lies Debunked page, which looks more like an infosheet from a conspiracy theory website than a serious presentation of fact from a news outlet. The page takes time to “debunk” unsourced claims about the paper, but notably does not address overwhelming concerns of the paper’s decreased depth of original coverage, its enlisting work from unpaid contributors, and its initially lying about firing staffers.
We are a collective of local freelance journalists, former LA Weekly staff editors, journalism and First Amendment advocates, lawyers and educators who have all contributed, in one way or another, to the amazing legacy of the former LA Weekly.— BoycottLAWeekly (@boycottlaweekly) April 2, 2018
The L.A. Weekly boycott won its share of small victories against the new paper’s owners. In addition to rallying significant support on social media, the effort has received cosigns from major local businesses included Amoeba Music, who pulled their advertising with the publication. This month, the boycott succeeded in getting the paper’s annual downtown restaurant event Essentials cancelled after encouraging a number of popular restaurants to back out.
Considering the transparency of the effort, and the alt-right-esque language meant to appeal to its longtime readers, who theoretically used to read the alt-weekly for its progressive values, the #Speaktruth website comes off as nothing but a pathetic and weird joke. If local journalism weren’t actually under attack by major corporations all around the country, I’d be able to find the joke a whole lot funnier.