Saturday, May 07, 2005

Caltech Holds A Significant Briefing On Tsunamis, But L.A. Times Doesn't Cover It

As it does from time to time, Caltech held a meeting of its Earthquake Research Affiliates yesterday, this time for a briefing on latest research developments regarding tsunamis.

There were four hours of significant discussions. Kerry Sieh, just back from Indonesia, showed the patterns of recent earthquakes off Sumatra. Tom Heaton discussed the tsunami danger in Seattle. Ken Hudnut talked about proposed new GPS buoys that could give Southern California beach cities better tsunami warnings. There were videos showing the surging tsunamis that did strike in South Asia last December.

The Pasadena Star News and Associated Press were there to cover it, but not the Los Angeles Times. Caltech invited me, and I went as a retired newspaperman. Caltech scientists expressed disappointment the Times wasn't there.

Quite a bit of what was said was of obvious interest to Southern Californians. But not a word of what transpired appeared this morning in the Times.

Before retiring last year, I told Managing Editor Dean Baquet and the metro editors that I would be glad, free of charge, to brief a new earthquake reporter for the paper when one was named and introduce him or her to the key scientific sources..

So far, no one has been named, nearly a year later. This is on top of the changes made in my 10th anniversary story on the Northridge earthquake early last year that removed many strong statements about the ongoing quake danger here.

It's what I grew to appreciate the more I knew the new Tribune owners: They have no appreciation of the earthquake (and more remote tsunami) danger that exists in California. They're not keeping up with earthquake safety developments. There even was an editorial last year opposing needed changes in the Field Act protecting California schools against earthquakes. They have little or no interest in these quintessential California issues.

Of course, occasionally there are earthquake stories. They have paid some attention recently to the burgeoning costs of the new spans of the San Francisco Bay Bridge being built to make this vital Bay Area bridge safer in a major quake. But by and large, geological coverage has dropped way off.

Heaton yesterday again stated publicly that he and his associate, John Hall, feel Los Angeles high rise buildings could be in danger if a magnitude 7 earthquake were to be centered downtown. The Tribune-owned L.A. Times doesn't apparently think this is a story worth covering.

People ask why a home-owned paper is an advantage. The failure to cover yesterday's meeting gives us one good reason why.

We're suffering because the top editors of the paper came from Baltimore and New York and the owners are in Chicago..


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wait a minute; is Michael Kinsley not a "Top Editor"?

Some might argue he's from hunger, but in fact, it is Seattle...

5/07/2005 8:25 PM  
Blogger Transit Nerd said...


You aren't the only one who has issues over Times coverage.

As a non-Times person, I have concerns about transportation issues. Several years ago the Times had two writers covering the public transportation beat: Kurt Streeter and Caitlin Liu. Both cared passionately about their readers and getting information.

They both were willing to ride overcrowded buses to experience some of the issues first hand and to be able to see the truth about who rides transit versus the Bus Riders Union attempts to slant reality.

Recently, due to internal staffing issues, there is no specific person assigned to cover many serious transportation issues.

Lack of coverage in the late 1980's and early 1990's lead up to problems with RTD and LACTC. Without the news media paying attention, issues such as contractor fraud and corruption bubbled to the surface. And they became daily fodder. What would have happened with closer scrutiny?

Because of the bad behavior of some of the directors of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, both the Red and Gold Line construction were stopped, costing many millions more in construction costs and additional years of congestion.

And many state laws came about to govern the behavior of the publicly appointed MTA directors.

Granted, there is coverage via general assignment reporters. However, a beat reporter really better understands the many nunances over at MTA, Metrolink and the SCAG Magnetic Levitation project that steams ahead without constant spotlighting by the media.

I will say that I recently set up a lunch meeting downtown with the transportation editor and a transportation writer and my colleague. We had a chance to express our concerns and I believe we set up some good future relationships. We brought in a list of issues that we deemed important to Los Angeles and the future of our city.

At the same time, another group was picketing outside, because they have beliefs that their issues are not being covered the way they want.

Whether the Times covers an issue is always a concern. But how issues are covered are concerns for others.

Should there be a slant or a sensitivity? Some claim that the lack thereof is why the paper has lost readership. On the other hand, have any geologists or earthquake authorities met with Times editors to discuss coverage and institutional knowledge?

From my experience, our group will continue the dialogue we have opened with that editor and the reporter.

And only time will tell if coverage changes to the betterment of L.A.


5/08/2005 3:49 PM  

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