The Weho Times has served our community for seven years, is a constant source of updates for residents, and a great source of news for the Facebook pages I follow and moderate such as WeHo Neighbors Helping Neighbors and Weho East.
I learned that the news site turned seven years old last month and that editor and publisher Paulo Murillo recently reached a milestone of running the WeHo Times for six years on April 17th. I wanted to know what drives him to chronicle West Hollywood news and lifestyle with such dedication. I sat down with him on the anniversary of his tenure to ask him about his motivations and history with the city.
I was so fascinated to hear about your LONG history with this town – Please tell people how you first came to Weho?
Horror! My start in WeHo was not glamorous at all. My history with this city predates its cityhood. I’m talking about way back in 1981. I was a skinny Mexican kid with big hair and grass-stained jeans helping my stepdad mow lawns and rake leaves all over West Hollywood and Beverly Hills. Today it would be called forced child labour, but in the 1980s and 1990s it was common to see children working from sunup to sundown. I knew I was gay, so you better believe I hated getting my nails done, but man, talk about character building. I remember driving down Santa Monica Boulevard around 85 and seeing the old West Hollywood sign next to the Tropicana Motel. This sign was a beacon of hope that there were others like it, because I would see shirtless men walking around holding hands. My father called this area Jotolandia, which means Pedesha Land, so every time my mother beat me for playing with dolls, I fantasized about running away and finding a home in Jotolandia.
I first came to WeHo in 1991 and immediately got a fake ID. I moved to the city in 1993, on Laurel Ave, off Fountain Ave (less than a block from Ed Buck). Then over two decades later I fell in love with a man who made me give up my $1100 2 bedroom 2 bath rental on Westmount Dr (I lived around the corner from John D’Amico) and move in with him los angeles. I moved away from WeHo, but the truth is, I never left it. I’m crazy. I run the WeHo Times and a lot of people don’t know this about me, but I also run the West Hollywood Recovery Center.
What inspired you to start Weho Times – what led to its creation?
The WeHo Times was founded by Marco Colantonio, who was very active in the community. The website launched on March 15th, 2017. I came on board as a freelancer on May 22nd, 2017 and became Managing Editor shortly after. Marco created this news site to give an alternative choice and voice to WeHoville. He didn’t think one person should control the entire narrative of West Hollywood. We still think so today.
How has the site evolved over the past few years?
Marco had a vision for the WeHo Times to be the TMZ of WEHO. He wanted to cover local news, but he also wanted to provide the community with some hot juicy gossip similar to WeHo Confidential. I loved some WeHo Confidential, but that’s not who we are today. I think it has evolved into a news site that people can trust for information. He has a reputation for providing fair coverage and has often been at the forefront of breaking news in West Hollywood without ulterior motives or personal goals.
I observed and discussed journalistic ethics with you; which you adhere to. How did you learn this craft? What led to this decision to adhere to more traditional reporting versus what we see so much now in the current media (nagging, opinion and misleading stories?)
I was first published for a local newspaper in West Hollywood called FAB! In April 1999, I wrote a silly lifestyle column called “Luv Ya, Mean It” that followed my sexual exploits in WeHo. It was all about me. It was controversial, attention-seeking, foul-mouthed, and got me into a lot of trouble. I was called the Queen of Mean in West Hollywood. The column went on for about seven years and almost killed me.
This column landed me in rehab in 2007. I guess sobriety made me pursue a different style of writing from a point of view that wasn’t so self-possessed. Shortly after rehab I got a real news column about WeHo called “West Hollywood’s Hot Topic” in Frontiers magazine and it had nothing to do with me or what I thought. It was very “stick to the facts ma’am”. I was lucky to learn on the job and that’s how I first came across West Hollywood City Council meetings. I’m bringing everything I’ve learned in those 20-plus years in media to the WeHo Times. By no means do I do it perfectly, but less BS means less drama and I’m fine with that. If you want to read what’s happening in town, this is the place. I also don’t aspire to a seat on the city council, so I don’t hold any grudges against City Hall. If I don’t like a council member, you’ll never know by clicking on this news site. People know this isn’t Paulo Murillo’s WeHo Times.
What are some of the most outrageous – crazy stories you’ve covered?
When journalist and activist Jazmine Cannick was tasked with providing a detailed timeline of the death of a young man named Jemelle Moore, who lost his life in West Hollywood at the hands of Ed Buck, she rewrote this story, stating that the story appeared first road in Los Angeles Weekly. This is a lie. The WeHo Times risked financial ruin and possible political retribution by bravely breaking Gemmel’s story. Ask his mother, no news outlet wanted to touch this story, and Gemmel actually had a very close friend at KTLA. Jazmin hated Marco for some reason. She used our breaking story, took pictures of us and then cut us from the news feed and deleted us after the story went national.
I would say this was the biggest and most outrageous story to bring down our website in 2017. I take no credit for it and even though Ryan Gierach wrote it, the risk was on Marco who owned the news site. I am happy that we cooperated. I remember we were up all night in a heated debate about the main picture. Many don’t know this, but I’m the one who created the graphic of the picture of Gemmell leaning away from Ed Buck with the edges cut to depict his life being torn apart by the man next to him. I put Gemmel on Hillary Clinton’s face because as a former meth addict who traded his body for drugs in my active addiction, I related to Gemmel and didn’t want his life to be politicized and attached to Clinton’s baggage. My graphic was heavily borrowed by the national media. Alas, Jazmin not only politicized his death, she also cashed in on it by shaking down the Democrats for some of Ed Buck’s money, but breaking Ed Buck’s story is a story in itself that needs to be told at some point.
We’ve had a lot of crazy stories over the past seven years. There’s an interview I had with then-mayor John Duran that led to a national scandal that ultimately forced him to step down as mayor, which was not our intention at all. We’ve told stories about the closures of Circus of Books, Rage, Gold Coast, FuBar and other quirky spaces that shocked the community. We also cover the many new businesses that have opened. We were the first to report on the queen who recently tried to steal a 30-inch vibrator from Circus of Books, which was caught by TMZ and went national. And our story about the little Girl Scout who sold cookies at gay bars in WeHo was recently featured on The Drew Barrymore Show and Good Morning America. All this stuff went down in the city of West Hollywood and you read it here first.
What do you consider your greatest success with the WeHo Times?
When Lisa Belsanti, the former communications director for West Hollywood, reached out to me to say that the city wanted to advertise with the WeHo Times because she thought we were doing a great job, it was very validating. The WeHo Times wins awards. We’re not doing it perfectly by any means, but we’ve been doing it every day for the past seven years. This sequence is harder than it looks. I’m also happy with the way the website looks and proud of the photojournalism that goes into it. I think our photos connect with the community, which is why I believe people are so engaged with our Instagram account unlike any of our other social media platforms.
What is your hope for the future of the WeHo Times?
We’re going back to the beginning of this interview. I don’t come from money. I am not privileged to have a rich uncle leave me his small fortune. All I have is an insane work ethic and a group of community members who support what we’re trying to do here. There’s no way I can do it alone. I hope for the WeHo Times we get back to 2019 before the pandemic hits. We won a Chamber award, ad revenue went up, we had a beat before everything turned to shit and everything shut down – but regardless of the struggle, not once did anyone hear me cry about throwing in the towel or selling out the business. I hope to make enough revenue to hire more people to realize the full potential of the WeHo Times. The potential is there and this supports it.