The latest and starkest California casualty to the business collapse of the regional press giants is the once great Los Angeles Times itself. While a lot is being written (and should be) about the cascading shrinkage, bankruptcy and even closure of daily newspapers, and a lot debated about whether the papers' Internet nemesis can or should be a solution as well, less is noted about the impact of the crisis on daily journalism's self-proclaimed role as a monitor of the mighty.
One sobering example: Times columnist James Rainey comments on the fact that meetings of the Board of Supervisors of Los Angeles County, a polity with a greater population than all but the largest seven states and an economy to match, are covered by just four reporters.
"Only a handful of states have budgets bigger than Los Angeles County's. NASA spends 25% less in a year. The county's welfare and foster care departments serve the neediest, whose ranks will only grow as the economy staggers ... And the county's purse strings are controlled by just five politicians, the Board of Supervisors, whose powerful incumbency means they almost never face serious reelection challenges ... Back in my day, as many as a dozen full-time reporters walked this beat, filling the row of cramped, glass-walled cubicles on the dimly lit fourth floor just above the supervisors meeting room. The Times had at least half a dozen other reporters at its downtown mother ship, digging deep into city and county government.) All these reporters competed for scoops and broke big stories: about the cut-rate leases granted to developers of county-owned Marina Del Ray, about inflated pensions for the supervisors, about lavish spending on chauffeured limousines and scandals in county departments. Now most of these glass-walled offices might as well be museum cases -- desks, faxes and notepads left behind. Like people got out in a hurry."
Like I said yesterday, we're pretty much on our own now.
Here is an example of the kinds of things that we won't see much of from the Los Angeles Times anymore.
Bruce W. McClendon, the chief land use planner for Los Angeles County, was fired Friday by the county's chief executive. McClendon said he was called to a meeting with William T. Fujioka and told he was terminated from his $191,028-a-year job as head of the Department of Regional Planning. Security officers later escorted him out of the building.
McClendon, reached by telephone, said he believed he had been fired in retaliation for blowing the whistle on county supervisors' aides. He said he had given Fujioka information that showed the aides to the county supervisors routinely sough to improperly influence decisions on whether to permit development plans. "It was illegal, and they can go to jail for doing it," said McClandon, 62. He said his meetings with Fujioka in recent weeks made it clear that he was likely to be fired. He said he recently began consulting with attorneys in preparation for filing a whistle-blower retaliation lawsuit.
Interesting. Aides to County Supervisors like Mike Antonovich and Gloria Molina are making backdoor deals with developers, and they fire the guy who reported it? Sure, no reason why we need to know anything about that.
Oh, and one other thought. LA County District Attorney Steve Cooley should be investigating this shocking ethical lapse quite thoroughly, right? Then again, isn't it the LA County Board of Supervisors that controls Fightin' Steve's budget? Funny how it all works. There hasn't been a single story about this matter printed anywhere since the article I quoted from above.