Before OC Weekly, Orange County was nothing — seven solid days of creation, followed by the birth of Jesus and, a few centuries later, the construction of some rude stone huts from which an indigenous golfing people (newportus erectus) hunted buffalo and the plentiful sea otter.
All that changed in mid-September of 1995. Following our first issue, Orange County became world famous. No Doubt, the Offspring, monotheism, The O.C., Arrested Development, the internal-combustion engine — none of this would have been possible were it not for a wealthy New York City developer’s ambition to give his kids something to play with.
Really: The Weekly was launched in 1995 because of Leonard Stern and David Schneiderman. A man whose name you’ll often find on the Forbes list of richest Americans, Stern bought the Village Voice in the late 1980s so that his children — who were interested in the media business — could have something to do when they came of age; Schneiderman was the publisher of the Voice. Stern’s kids eventually decided that media was harder than real estate (smart kids), but not before Stern and Schneiderman bought LA Weekly (1992) and launched OC Weekly in 1995.
Most people figured we wouldn’t last: Orange County was (they said) too decentralized, conservative and suburban for an alt-weekly. But Stern and Schneiderman gave us the money, and our brothers and sisters at LA Weekly (especially Michael Sigman, former LA and OC Weekly publisher, now a music impresario) gave us the guidance. We made money in our first year.
I want to acknowledge those who’ve been with us since those earliest days — Matt Coker was there, and Rebecca Schoenkopf, too. Jim Washburn still writes for us (as a freelancer). Patty Marsters was an intern. (They’ll remember that the earliest OC Weekly meetings took place around my kitchen table.) Many of the people still at the Weekly came very soon after the September launch —- Heather Swaim, Scott Moxley, Patt Buchanan, Nick Schou, Cameron and Steve Lowery.
But whether they started here in 1995 or arrived two weeks ago, thanks. Thanks for helping build a newspaper that makes a difference in people’s lives. Thanks for helping us create a place that provides exciting, fun and rewarding work. Thanks for hanging out late at night and sometimes all weekend. Thanks to our sales team for selling a paper that, by its very nature, strives to be something that’s a little difficult to sell — and for doing that better than it’s ever been done.
In the early days of the Weekly, I’ll admit to a little anxiety myself — the feeling that something this amazing couldn’t flourish in a place like Orange County. We sometimes worked as if OC Weekly were a radio station behind enemy lines, like the Budapest radio station in 1956 that beamed out a plea for help, a fragile, vital lifeline to creativity, freedom and life. That the paper has succeeded so hugely is due to people who are long gone as well as those of us still here. And I really believe it when I say that I can’t wait to see what we’ll do next with our talent, energy and enthusiasm.
To all of our friends in the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies -— and especially our comrades at Gambit; you shall rise again -— thanks for accompanying us on this rare journey. You can follow our history in our 10th Anniversary issue: