Drex Heikes. (LA Weekly )
LA Weekly Editor Drex Heikes announced Monday that 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 for a little more than 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 that he needed a break before pursuing his next venture in journalism. He told his staff Monday morning that his last day would be Friday.
Fenske has spent 10 years with Village Voice Media, 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. She said she had 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 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 Phoenix.
Fenske has been 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 came to the Weekly after Phoenix-based Village Voice Media forced out his predecessor, Laurie Ochoa, over "creative differences." The Weekly had suffered through staff reductions, including the departure of some of its most prominent writers and commentators.
Heikes, 58, told his staff during Monday's staff 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 that detailed repeated safety violations and worker deaths on construction sites during 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.