Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Unguarded Henhouse

I've been waiting for someone to cover the media story related to the Bell corruption scandal here in Southern California. And by media story I mean, "Where was the media?" when these shenanigans were going on for so many years?

Where were the watchdog reporters and tough local newspapers that used to hold these small, poorly run municipalities to task, by listening to complaints from residents or even just by showing up for "meetings" that lasted all of 30 seconds?

Answer: They've gone the way of the dinosaur and been replaced by "new media" which - surprise - didn't do the job.

What's interesting is that it took NPR to tell the story. And NPR, a publicly funded nonprofit, is sadly one of the last, best "old media" outlets around.


  1. There's a lot of romanticizing going on about how many reporters used to be covering things and how aggressive they were. In truth, there are more than 80 cities in L.A. County, and the Times never staffed them well. They didn't have reporters going to every meeting. In the Suburban offices, reporters were busy trying to come up with page one stories so they could get promoted to Metro. Everyone wanted to spend months reporting an 80-inch story that no one would end up reading. Only the Orange County office, which had the Register as competition, gave truly serious coverage to local news. The neighborhoods of L.A. and the outlying cities within L.A. County have been getting better investigative coverage over the past few years than they did during those supposed glory days. The Times doesn't have the same resources, but in L.A. County at least, it's using them a lot better, from what I can see.

  2. Hi Anon, thanks for reading/commenting.

    However, I don't have the same recollection you do, and I don't know who's "romanticizing" about the golden days at the Times.

    I worked at competing papers in both Orange County and the SF Valley in the 1980s, and not only did I attend every council meeting on my beat, but there were often Times reporters at those meetings or at least hanging around City Hall, keeping in touch with what was going on in those small cities.

    In the 90s I was a stringer for the Times and I often covered three council meetings/week, writing up briefs, talking to city managers about issues and making contacts with the citizens in those communities. I certainly wrote budget stories every year in those municipalities.

    It's hard to believe these kinds of egregious crimes would have gone unrecognized for so many years back in those days. There really were more staffers and more scrutiny. And yes, everyone was looking for the Page One story, but what better chance at landing out front than to uncover local corruption - that's always been a gold standard for reporters.

  3. I have high hopes for (if they can make the business model pay). I even emailed Patch suggesting that the City of Bell would be the perfect community for the next Patch launch.

  4. Oh, that was it--in your final paragraph in the comments, here, Karen--Bell is a page one story, overlooked for years. You never know where you're going to find it.

  5. What's additionally fascinating to me is this (small town corruption) has been the premise for so many pulps, from Raymond Chandler, to Ross Thomas, to Lee Child. What other dirt are they gonna dig up?

  6. Desiree, I see the wheels turning on your next plot point!

    Petrea, the page-one stories often came from attending those dull, long council meetings - and then hanging around afterward to dig up the truth about what was really going on, or what happened in "closed session."

    Paula, better a patch than nothing, right? That's the choice we seem to have these days. Yes, Bell is a natural place for them to get a foothold and have an engaged following.

  7. Some reporters got paid just not to show the news,but we have many good reporters that can be trusted.