If you’ve recently tried to pick up an OC Weekly at one of your local neighborhood racks, but noticed something that resembles a cheap rip-off of OC Weekly sitting on top of our newspapers, then you are already familiar with the Irvine Weekly. The brain-child of Brian Calle, a former Weekly Scariest Person of the Year, the Irvine Weekly is a brand-new publication boasting a supposed circulation of 100,000 issues and whose business model seems to be pretending to be OC Weekly (except without any real journalism) and using our newspaper racks to confuse the shit out of people.
Calle, of course, is the libertarian-leaning former OC Register editorial director who last fall purchased the flailing LA Weekly and promptly fired just about everyone on staff with no warning, explanation or even follow-up plan. He installed as a new editor a former corporate art director for previous owner Voice Media Group, who seems to be big on photo essays. In any case, Calle’s purchase of the paper essentially killed the city’s vaunted alt-weekly institution (which just “celebrated” its 40th anniversary), given it hasn’t published a single noteworthy story in 12 months and is still in the throes of a freelancer-led intellectual boycott.
A few weeks after OC Weekly exposed the purchase of the paper by Calle and a network of shady Orange County investors, many of them involved in Republican party circles and cannabis-industry concerns, I met with the man at a coffee shop in—wait for it—Irvine. He seemed nice enough, but also completely befuddled as to how his hackneyed effort to form a secretive group of politically conservative investors and weed bros to take over one of America’s most-beloved alt-weekly papers had somehow backfired.
By the time we met, angry freelancers had already held a public funeral for the LA Weekly and organized a campaign to not only boycott writing for the paper, but also systematically target its advertisers, including Amoeba Records, which forced Calle to cancel the paper’s successful Essentials food event. I planned to write about my surreal meeting with Calle (who at one point—half-jokingly, I think—offered me a job as LA Weekly editor), but that almost felt like it would be kicking a little kid who had just dropped his toy, while everyone else was already stomping on the shattered pieces.
Why pile on? We had bigger targets to go after, such as since-ousted Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas and Surfin’ Congressman/Putin sock puppet Dana Rohrabacher. What I didn’t realize at the time is that Calle, according to a breach-of-contract lawsuit filed by his chief partner in the takeover deal, marijuana attorney David Welch, never really had any plans to make LA Weekly work, perhaps aside from presumably using its advertising platform as a money-laundering scheme for his investors’ various marijuana interests.
As it turns out, Calle was already earning $120,000 per year to work as a “chief marketing director” for the Orange County cannabis company Kurvana, simply for agreeing to land them favorable press. According to the lawsuit, Calle allowed LA Weekly to publish a favorable review of a Kurvana product without disclosing his relationship to the company, as well as letting it run prominent ads without bothering to pay its bills, to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.
Meanwhile, Welch claims, Calle tried to finagle himself a salary of $135,000 per year to run LA Weekly into the ground (not to mention a similarly priced bonus for setting up the deal). Even more disturbingly, Welch’s lawsuit claims Calle was trying to enrich himself for running the paper into the ground even as he was secretly conspiring with a pair of investors to get another paper off the ground: the aforementioned Irvine Weekly.
The rag’s roughly 15-page inaugural issue featured a closeup photograph of a nauseating, technicolor-sprinkled hamburger and a ripped-from-the-press-release puff piece concerning a food court in Irvine. The hamburger was a creation of a Calle business crony who happily posted a framed copy of the issue in an Instagram post, claiming (dubiously) that the paper’s circulation is 100,000 copies. A more recent issue highlighted the corporate-friendly dining spot the Diamond Jamboree Center, where you can find everything from “dancing noodles to milky buns and everything in between.”
Other than the fact that Calle’s newest venture includes no real journalism whatsoever, the only thing that makes it interesting is the paper’s obvious, if rather pathetic, attempt to mimic OC Weekly. The logo, the shape, the cover layout: all of it is designed to confuse readers into thinking we have something to do with this publication. And the fact that it is being purposefully dumped on top of our issues is unacceptable.
After the first issue with the exploding clown burger on the cover, I texted Calle to let him know that his folks were poaching our racks. He apologized and promised to look into it. It’s still happening, though. At a Costa Mesa restaurant the other day, I spotted a bunch of Calle’s papers on top of our rack, so I dropped them on the pavement where they belong. The owner, who happened to be walking out the front door, spotted me doing this and seemed confused for a moment. “I thought this paper had something to do with you guys,” he explained. “Except then I tried to read it, and it really, really sucks.”
Award-winning investigative journalist Nick Schou is Editor of OC Weekly. He is the author of Kill the Messenger: How the CIA’s Crack Cocaine Controversy Destroyed Journalist Gary Webb (Nation Books 2006), which provided the basis for the 2014 Focus Features release starring Jeremy Renner and the L.A. Times-bestseller Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love’s Quest to bring Peace, Love and Acid to the World, (Thomas Dunne 2009). He is also the author of The Weed Runners (2013) and Spooked: How the CIA Manipulates the Media and Hoodwinks Hollywood (2016).