Over the last three decades or so, countless Times writers (or so it has seemed) have found their reporting muse or their social conscience writing about Skid Row. In journalism parlance it's an evergreen story: always available, with reliable underbelly-of-the-city color, human-interest angles and a cast of heroes that has stayed pretty stable through the years. It's also highly accessible, starting up just a few blocks from the newsroom. What happens on Skid Row is not especially relevant to most people in the city or to the smaller niche of Times readers; L.A's poor mostly struggle far from there, and downtown's renaissance is booming in spite of the sidewalk drug deals, cardboard-box colonies and occasional dead bodies. Still, it's a dependable story, and a legitimate one worth revisiting on occasion.
Steve Lopez, the Times' Metro columnist, is the latest to become engrossed. He has been writing periodic columns about a talented homeless man who plays violin on street corners. On Sunday, Lopez began a series based on hanging out on the Row for a week. The first installment was a standard if eventful paramedic ride-along. The paper gave it big page one play, so it must think there's something new coming—or has high hopes for the series at awards time. The package includes video that Lopez narrates on the Times website. That's become commonplace on newspaper sites around the country, but the fresh part here is that Lopez personally informs some Skid Row denizens that a heroin addict who lived among them has died.
Reaction: Downtown activist Brady Westwater takes vehement issue with Lopez's claim that "roughly 10,000 people flop on skid row streets each night" (Westwater says the number is far less) and issues a challenge to Lopez to bring a KTLA camera and come count the homeless with him. That prompted a response from blogger Rodger Jacobs. * Monday: Westwater is still steamed about the 10,000 stat, but he's impressed by Lopez's work nonetheless: "As of today, no one anywhere is doing - or could do - any better job than he is at telling us about ourselves."