My mentor at the LA Times K*** picked me up outside the Best Western in Chinatown on Friday morning. It was a beautiful sunny morning with a crispy bite in the air, and I got my first glimpse of downtown LA: the beautiful spire of City Hall rising into the clear blue LA sky, the hunched shoulders of the Santa Monica mountain range, the pink benches in Grand Park and Angelenos on their morning runs and walking their dogs.
Large letters in Edwardian font identify the building on the LA skyline, and a beautiful lobby tells the rich story of the LA Times and its 128 year history.
I was given a highly coveted desk looking out at the sunny green LA streets. The desk came with some bad karma though – its former tenant was apparently a reporter who was having an affair with a source and most of his stories were based on their pillow talk; he had left the LA Times just a couple days before I arrived and so every time I mentioned where I was sitting, the faces in the newsroom stretched into strange shapes – but I was determined that the sunlight and my happy vibes would chase away any shadows that lingered.
I attended my first editorial meeting that morning, and went through the Metro budget for the next day’s paper: a short and to the point verbal presentation by each section editor of the stories they were working on, which included an overview from the online editor and the photography editor. The LA Times’ Washington office joined the meeting on the phone.
It was a neat and well orchestrated meeting with Ashley Dunn, one of the editors at the LA Times, chairing the session and asking for clarification once or twice. When the section editors were done, a group of four stayed behind to discuss the stories that would run on the next day’s front page – a sign that even though the LA Times was trying to move towards online news and more multimedia, the front page of their print product continued to define their organisation and so a lot of time was still being spent tweaking the page to look just right.
And a quick walk around the newsroom showed why it was so difficult to let go of the newspaper: the walls were covered with framed versions of various front pages dating back to 1896. Iconic stories about the development of downtown LA, a fire that ravaged California, an earthquake that reduced the city to rubble, and the day of Obama’s presidential victory – all formative moments in the history of the paper and the country.
Equipped with a security badge that describes me a Contractor at the LA Times, and allows me unfettered access to the building and the parking (I was even allocated a prime parking space in the LA Times silo!), K*** and the Director of News Development Tracy Boucher showed me around the building – from the smoking balcony which looks out on the Walt Disney Concert Hall and Grand Park; to the Morgue on the second floor which is where the manual filing system used by the LA Times has come to rest.
The Morgue is a collection of steel drawers that contains newspaper clippings filed in yellow brown envelopes with topics typewritten onto them, and a corner dedicated to microfiche records.
I even peered through a large glass window into the large and stylishly decorated kitchen within the newsroom with its shiny wood finishes where two chefs mulled over a large bowl filled with eggs ahead of preparations for Easter and plans to teach Angelenos how best to boil an egg.
In one corner of the newsroom was a small TV studio where short video clips are recorded and uploaded onto the LA Times website as the paper tries to move towards multimedia and counter the failing fortunes of print media in the United States.
As I ate lunch with K*** – a huge bowl of Vietnamese soup – and then dinner at a fusion place with K***, Ashley and Kim Murphy – editor of the National desk at the LA Times who won a Pulitzer for her work in Russia – I learnt about LA from those best placed to share the city’s story: local reporters who have a keen eye for trends and changes.