Michael Balter wrote:
> /From the Los Angeles Times/
> Cuba walks tightrope of reforms
It takes a lot of gall for the LA Times to adopt a superior attitude
when it comes to the free flow of information.
Why I'm Leaving The L.A. Times
Posted May 28, 2007 | 09:35 PM (EST)
After 10 years, hundreds of bylines and some of the best experiences of
my professional life, I'm leaving the Los Angeles Times at the end of
this month, along with 56 newsroom colleagues. We each have our reasons
for taking the latest buyout offer from Chicago-based Tribune Company.
In my case, the decision grew out of frustration with the paper's
coverage of working people and organized labor, and a sad realization
that the situation won't change anytime soon.
It's awkward to criticize an old friend, which I still consider the
Times to be, but I think the question of how mainstream journalists deal
with the working class is important and deserves debate. There may be no
better setting in which to examine the issue: The Los Angeles region is
defined by gaping income disparities and an enormous pool of low-wage
immigrant workers, many of whom are pulled north by lousy, unstable
jobs. It's also home to one of the most active and creative labor
federations in the country. But you wouldn't know any of that from
reading a typical issue of the L.A. Times, in print or online.
Increasingly anti-union in its editorial policy, and celebrity -- and
crime-focused in its news coverage, it ignores the economic discontent
that is clearly reflected in ethnic publications such as La Opinion.
Buzz up!on Yahoo!
Of course, I realize that revenues are plummeting and newsroom staffs
are being cut across the country. But even in these tough financial
times, it's possible to shift priorities to make Southern California's
largest newspaper more relevant to the bulk of people who live here.
Here's one idea: Instead of hiring a "celebrity justice reporter," now
being sought for the Times website, why not develop a beat on economic
justice? It might interest some of the millions of workers who draw
hourly wages and are being squeezed by soaring rents, health care costs
and debt loads.
In Los Angeles, the underground economy is growing faster than the
legitimate one, which means more exploited workers, greater economic
polarization, and a diminishing quality of life for everyone who lives
here. True, it's harder to capture those kinds of stories than to scan
divorce files and lawsuits. But over time, solid reporting on the
economic life of Los Angeles could bring distinction and credibility to
the Times. It also holds tremendous potential for interacting with
readers. And, above all, it's important.
In a way, the Times created my obsession for economic and class issues
by sending me into low-wage Los Angeles as part of a 1998 initiative to
increase coverage of Latinos. I was a seasoned journalist with lots of
experience in Third World countries. Still, the level of exploitation I
saw shocked me. Illegal immigrants, in particular, had no rights. In a
range of industries, including manufacturing and retail, they were
routinely underpaid and fired after any attempt to assert rights or ask
for higher wages.
That disregard for workers spread up the chain of regional jobs, just as
a crash in subprime home loans eventually lowers the entire real estate
market. The same is happening to various degrees across the country.
Rather than reverse those troubling trends, recent political leaders
have done just the opposite. Enabled by a Milton Friedman-inspired
belief in free markets and the idea that poverty is proof of personal
failure, not systemic failure, federal trade and regulatory policies
have consistently undermined workers. The inequities worsened under
President George W. Bush, who wears his antipathy toward labor on his
sleeve. But few alarms were sounded by the mainstream press, including
the Los Angeles Times.
In the easy vernacular of modern journalism, the Times and other
newspapers routinely cast business and labor as powerful competitors
whose rivalries occasionally flare up in strikes and organizing
campaigns. What I saw was that workers almost always lose. Eventually I
left the labor beat and wrote about education and housing. Even there,
however, I noted a lack of enthusiasm for anything having to do with the
region's working poor.
Why? The senior editors are not bad people. Like most journalists, they
are in the business for the noblest of reasons. But in a region of
increasing polarization, where six figure incomes put them in the top
tier of the economy, they may not see the inequities in their own backyard.
I couldn't stop seeing them. I remembered the workers who killed
chickens, made bagged salads, packed frozen seafood, installed closet
organizers, picked through recycled garbage, and manufactured foam cups
and containers. They were injured from working too fast, fired for
speaking up, powerless, invisible. I saw that their impact on all of us
who live in the region is huge.
Now, like hundreds of other mid-career journalists who are walking away
from media institutions across the country, I'm looking for other ways
to tell the stories I care about. At the same time, the world of online
news is maturing, looking for depth and context. I think the timing
couldn't be better.
With the Los Angeles Economic Roundtable, a source of economic research
for 15 years, I'm exploring the development of a nonprofit online site
to chronicle the regional economy from a full range of perspectives. We
want to tap into the wealth of economic research being generated by
academic institutions, business groups, labor unions and others, as well
as the vast experience of ordinary Angelenos. After all, the economy is
nothing more than how we live, work and consume, all drawn together.
Leaving a newspaper that was once my journalistic ideal is harder than
I'd expected. It feels, I suppose, like walking out of a long marriage
that was once filled with love and hope, but grew stale. There is
nostalgia and regret, along with relief and new energy. I know it's time
to let go of the old dreams and move on to new ones. Already, the Los
Angeles Times is becoming part of my past.