LAT shakes up city politics beat

Assistant Managing Editor Janet Clayton has fielded complaints about the depth, breadth and savvy of Times' local political coverage since she became the Metro staff boss last year. Late Friday she made some changes, moving editor John Hoeffel off the City Hall pod to oversee the state desk and re-creating the position of City-County Bureau Chief. It goes to Jim Newton, the California government and politics editor until he went on leave to write a biography of Earl Warren. Newton was based in City Hall when Richard Riordan was mayor and will now direct the team of reporters who cover the city, the county Hall of Administration and local politics. The organizational structure has been used before by the Times to bolster its reporting strength. The original City-County Bureau Chief was Bill Boyarsky, who built a staff in the 1980s that aggressively covered then-Mayor Tom Bradley and the political scene. Clayton is an alumnus of that staff, as am I (and at least two dozen other journalists in town, including Jill Stewart); Boyarsky is now a city ethics commissioner.

Clayton also named Bill Nottingham the editor of the bureau, moved State Editor Steve Padilla to oversee the higher education, intellectual life and religion pod, and added Mary MacVean to the legal/law enforcement desk. Also Friday, she announced that editors Larry Gordon and John Mitchell are returning to the reporting ranks, reporter Nita Lelyveld goes the other way, and staff writer Jill Leovy—who has been filing high-impact pieces about the police and crime in South Los Angeles— will take a stint as the night rewrite reporter.

Both memos follow:

To: The Staff
From: Janet Clayton, assistant managing editor

I'm delighted to announce a few new editing assignments on our Metro desk that will reshape and further strengthen our coverage, starting early next year:

-- Jim Newton, upon return from his book leave, will become City-County Bureau Chief, a job with an illustrious history that began with former City Editor Bill Boyarsky. Jim will run the team that covers the mayor, the county board of supervisors, and other local government and politics. He also will write news, analysis and do some editing. Jim is uniquely qualified to be in charge of this signature coverage for the Times. Since 1989, he has covered several big running stories, including coverage of the LAPD and its struggles with reform and the administration of Mayor Richard Riordan. He was California government and politics editor when he took time off to write a biography of former Governor and U.S.Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, to be published next year.

-- Bill Nottingham, an experienced journalist with a deep understanding of politics, will be the editor for the City County bureau. Currently deputy Sacramento editor, Bill has been with the Times since 1985, working in several assignments, including staff writer, Orange County Edition editor and regional editor.

-- John Hoeffel, currently the Local Government editor, will become State editor, overseeing and editing our team of versatile writers based in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and Sacramento. John, a Times editor since 2004, is a natural to this assignment. He was the editor in charge of state, national and foreign coverage at the San Jose Mercury News. John also was a reporter in Washington D.C. for the Winston-Salem Journal and was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists not all that long ago.

-- Steve Padilla, currently State editor, will become the editor in charge of higher education, intellectual life and religion. Steve, one of the column one kings of the Metro desk, will also continue to run his occasional writers workshops, informal brownbag gatherings that help reporters sharpen their thinking about writing and different ways to do journalism.

-- Mary MacVean, a great asset to our local government desk since last year, when she joined us from the extended news desk, will join Gale Holland on the legal/law enforcement desk. Mary is a former AP reporter and editor.

--There may be additions to the Sacramento and State desks. Reporting assignments attached to these various teams will largely remain, although we are thinking about some opportunities for new beats and/or realignment of some coverage. All told, I could not be more pleased about each one of these new editing assignments. Please congratulate your colleagues.

November 4, 2005


To: The Staff

From: Janet Clayton, assistant managing editor

Since I came back to Metro last year, I've been talking about the importance of giving people the opportunity to try new assignments without career risk and to move back and forth between reporting and editing. This announcement is an example of just that: two respected and experienced editors who want to return to writing their own stories; one strong reporter who wants to get even better at the art of rewrite; another strong reporter who wants to jump into editing.

From the Metro desk to staff writing, starting early next year:

-- Larry Gordon, higher education and religion editor for several years, has been itching to get back to writing. Now he'll be able to finally do that, after years of being a versatile editor of many reporters. Starting early next year, he will write about ideas and intellectual life with an emphasis on California's think tanks and institutions. Prior to coming to the desk in 1999, Larry had several assignments at the Times, including urban affairs reporter and higher education reporter. He was a Fulbright scholar in 1995.

-- John Mitchell, deputy state editor since 2002, also wants to return to reporting, to the kind of explanatory stories he did so well for many years as a Metro reporter. John is sought out in the newsroom as one of the people who knows a lot about Los Angeles and the many worlds within it. His understanding of cultural and historical context, along with a keen appetite for a good news story, make him a great asset to our reporting staff. He will write a variety of stories about life in and related to Los Angeles.

To Night Rewrite, starting in about a week:

-- Jill Leovy, a Times reporter for more than 10 years, has made a reputation as a writer who knows how to get inside and convey an incredible sense of being there, be it inside a police precinct or at the site of a crime scene. With Monte Morin leaving the Times, we will begin to rotate the night rewrite job, likely for 3 to 6 month periods. Jill will do this important assignment---the night rewrite reporter who is based in Metro but writes late stories for all departments---for four nights a week. Staff writer Mike Kennedy will continue to pick up one evening.

From reporting to Metro desk, starting Monday:

-- Nita Lelyveld, a Times reporter since 2001, will come onto the City Desk as an editor next week. Nita, whose most recent story was a heartbreaking journey into the tattered lives of a family who says its children were abused by a trusted priest, will start on general assignment editing. She will bring an eye for storytelling to the many great breaking news stories that are handled by our Metro staff. These are good and significant moves for Metro because they demonstrate flexibility in assignments and growth--and, not incidentally, opportunities for great stories.

Please congratulate your colleagues.

November 4, 2005

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