Friday, August 31, 2007

L.A. Times California Section Is Improving

When the daily L.A. Times and New York Times are delivered at my house early each morning, I've found myself of late looking at the California Section of the L.A. Times first.

Of course, at my age, the obituaries are interesting, and they are in that section. But the fact is, the section is improving, with a mix of good stories, columns and beats that are working out. It's encouraging that, at last, after seven years of Tribune ownership, the paper seems to be doing something right. And it is showcasing a local staff that has always had many smarts.

For one thing, the editors have been moving state columnist George Skelton out from way inside the section, where John Carroll first stuck him when he was editor, to Page 1 of the section. Skelton's columns are a highly sophisticated look at what is happening in California politics, and recently he has had particularly excellent coverage of the state budget fight, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's fractious relations with legislative Republicans, and, yesterday, a very good column on the proposed antiwar measure that may go on the February 5 primary ballot in what Skelton views as the unlikely event that Schwarzenegger goes along with the partisan Democratic push for it in the Legislature.

Years ago, the late Times political editor Art Berman remarked that the most important thing a political writer does is to cover conflict, that the good ones are able to reach a wholesome balance of reporting both, or all, sides. Skelton is particularly good at this. A former White House correspondent and longtime statehouse reporter in Sacramento, he is a real asset to the Times. Let's hope he doesn't retire soon.

I need not say anything about Steve Lopez's column. It continues to be a highlight of the newspaper.

Right above Skelton's column yesterday was an intriguing and tough story by the always able Richard Winton on how Sherry Lansing and William Friedkin had paid ADT Home Security $25,000 for 24-hour patrols to protect their Bel Air home from burglary. But when they were out of town on a trip and one occurred, the company apparently dropped the ball completely, showing up only an hour and 45 minutes after the alarm and then not noticing evidence of a break in. The couple is suing the firm.

Winton is not like Noam Levey, the anti-war advocate in the Times' Washington bureau, who covers just the anti-Bush Administration side of that story. Winton made every attempt to get a statement from ADT, but, perhaps wisely, the hapless security agency chose not to answer his calls.

The Times, when Eric Malnic was around, used to regularly have good weather stories. Now, they may be coming back (although, as I remarked earlier this week, the actual weather page could use some updating, lagging in interest and features behind the New York Times). Still, the story yesterday by Stuart Silverstein and Elizabeth Douglass was an excellent account of the tremendous temperature variations within Southern California during the heat wave. These variations, of course, are a mark of an arid climate. In New York, every part of the metropolitan area has the same high humidity and temperatures in the summer, and the same freeze in the winter. Here, we have our cool beaches in the summer and mild ones in the winter.

Greg Krikorian had a good story also in the California Section yesterday on the limited options facing the jury in the protracted Phil Spector trial. Much of this trial has been covered by Peter Hong, who has done a bangup job.

Also, this week, I should take note of the fascinating story by Tami Abdollah and Maria LaGanga, about the Rolling Hills Estates man who faces a possible six months in jail (unless Sheriff Lee Baca releases him after 82 minutes) for building a fence that allegedly encroaches on a cherished public bridal trail and has been resisting forever taking it down. The judge remarked she may retire before this one is resolved.

Rong-Gong Lin's coverage of the area's traffic problems is also a frequent subject in this section, and the Times obituaries often trump those in the New York Times. Charles Ornstein's revealing reports, which won a 2005 Pulitzer Prize for public service, had a good deal to do with finally shutting down the woeful Martin Luther King Hospital. Just today, there is a terrific graphic on the new seismically-safer San Francisco Bay Bridge, now under construction.

I cite all these just as examples of what is being done right in this section, and it's a delight to say that the paper is doing more than one thing right. I don't know whether this is due to editor James O'Shea's perseverance on his pledge to enhance local coverage, but compliments to him, if it is, and it would seem certain that metro editor Janet Clayton and city editor Shelby Grad also deserve some of the credit along with the reporters.

The section is not perfect. It didn't do so well lately when 17,000 international passengers were stuck on the runways of Los Angeles International Airport for hours when a computer glitch shut down Customs. But a newspaper is a daily operation: It can't do everything right, all the time.

Frankly, I'm not so impressed with the announcement that the Times' new Image section will go weekly. This deplorable example of Hollywood glitz and cheesecake has not, thus far, proved to be much worth reading.


There's a report from the Taliban-dominated South Waziristan province of Pakistan this morning that the Taliban has seized more than 100 Pakistani soldiers as hostages. This can only compound the increasingly worrying situation in Pakistan, a nuclear-armed state under pressure from the terrorists of both the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

The recent hostage episode in neighboring Afghanistan, where the Taliban kidnapped 23 South Korean religious pilgrims, finally killing two and releasing the others after a deal the terms of which remain cloudy. The Taliban has found that world attention quickly focuses on these episodes, and they are bound to continue, possibly not only in Pakistan and Afghanistan.



Blogger Miss Havisham said...

Your depth of experience is a currency.

We need your clone at our local papers.

9/01/2007 12:33 PM  

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