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New LA Weekly editor named as Drex Heikes departs

October 24, 2011 |  4:26 pm

This post has been corrected. See note at bottom for details.

LA Weekly editor Drex Heikes announced Monday he would step down, and the Phoenix-based company that publishes the paper quickly named his replacement: Sarah Fenske, who has been managing editor of the Weekly’s sister publication in St. Louis.

Heikes, who served a little over two years as editor of the alternative paper, told his staff that he was proud of the paper’s growing readership in print and online but wanted a break before pursuing his next venture in journalism.

He said in a meeting with his staff Monday morning that his last day would be Friday.

Village Voice Media said Fenske would be next in the editor’s chair. She has spent 10 years with the company, working as a columnist in Phoenix before becoming managing editor at the Riverfront Times in St. Louis.

“This is all very, very late-breaking,” Fenske said in a brief interview.

She said she has never worked in Los Angeles before. “Obviously it’s a very exciting city, a gorgeous city and I am looking forward to working there.”

The announcement was so hurried, in fact, that staffers at the Weekly still hadn’t been told about Fenske’s ascension when Village Voice executive editor Michael Lacey emailed The Times to say that she had the job.

Fenske, 34, was born in Cleveland and attended the College of Wooster in Ohio. She won the prestigious 2010 Livingston Award for young journalists for a series of reports on corruption in the housing authority for Maricopa County in Arizona. The stories led to the ouster of the head of the authority, which serves the city of Phoenix.

Fenske has been managing editor of the Riverfront Times for a year.

“It is difficult to replace a talent like Drex, but Sarah Fenske has excelled at four of our publications,” Lacey said via email. “I anticipate no less in Los Angeles.”

Heikes, 58, told his staff during Monday’s meeting that he was proud of the awards the publication won and of a 22% readership increase in print since his arrival in 2009, along with a 36% increase in online readership.

“I've been working since age 11, when my family bought a marina in Alaska, and have never taken more than a couple of weeks off,” he said in explaining his departure. “I'm now at a point when I can afford to take a break, the first break of my life, and figure out what I want to do next.”

The editor came to the Weekly after editing a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative series at the Las Vegas Sun. The stories detailed repeated safety violations and worker deaths on construction sites in the midst of a Las Vegas building boom.

Before that, he worked for 18 years at the Los Angeles Times, including as editor of The Times’ Sunday magazine. Heikes came to the Weekly after Phoenix-based Village Voice Media forced out his predecessor, Laurie Ochoa, over “creative differences.”

[For The Record: Oct. 24, 2011: An earlier version of this post incorrectly reported that Sarah Fenske was editor of the Riverfront Times.]

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--James Rainey

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