Friday, April 22, 2005

Hector Tobar Goes to Mexico City for LAT, Another Triumph For The Metpro Program

The news that Hector Tobar is being assigned as an L.A. Times correspondent in Mexico City, moving from the Buenos Aires bureau, is another triumph for Times-Mirror's Metpro program.

This program has developed wonderful correspondents over 21 years. The New York Times even benefitted, with Somini Sengupta and Ginger Thompson, Metpro graduates, serving on its foreign staff.

Sengupta, now a NYT correspondent in India, is the outstanding correspondent of the lot at this point. I think she has come to rank with John Burns right at the top of the NYT's foreign staff. She is one gutsy reporter and her work in Kashmir, Liberia and other Third World points has already been magnificent.

But Tobar is no slouch. It was a privilege for me last year to meet with him when I was in Buenos Aires. He looked totally in command in the LAT's spiffy bureau in BA, and we had a wonderful lunch. I see on the Metpro website that he is just one of seven foreign correspondents in all who are Metpro graduates.

Now, Mexico City is going to be a bigger challenge. Mexico City, no question, is a difficult place to cover, and Tobar is walking into a tense situation, not only with the many questions that have already arisen with the Mexican elections, but just helping to shepherd Sam Enriquez to stardom as a reporter.when he joins Tobar there.

Mexico is one of the Times' most important bureaus, because, obviously Mexico is critical to California, but our correspondents there have frequently found it a frustrating and, I daresay, even a dangerous place. There is not the tradition with a free press that would make work there easy.

Tobar has come a long way as a reporter. He is not so foolishly idealistic as he was in the wake of the 1992 Los Angeles riots when he naively wrote that Latinos and African-Americans were as one in spirit in the riot residue of South L.A. He's been seasoned, and he did a good job in South America.

There have been other outstanding Metropro graduates, and Richard Kipling and Frank Sotomayor have done terrific jobs directing what is a demanding program which necessarily must weed out a few who do not prove to be up to the program while advancing the rest.

I can't think of Metpro without paying tribute to the former editor of the L.A. Times, Shelby Coffey, who really believed in diversity and worked assiduously to advance it.

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