LAT and the labor beat *

Michael Massing, a Columbia Journalism Review editor writing in the New York Review of Books, reports on why Pulitzer winner Nancy Cleeland is no longer covering labor for the L.A. Times (and why no one else is either.)

This summer, Nancy Cleeland, after more than six years as the lone labor reporter at the Los Angeles Times, left her beat. She made the move "out of frustration," she told me. Her editors "really didn't want to have labor stories. They were always looking at labor from a management and business perspective—'how do we deal with these guys?'" In 2003, Cleeland was one of several reporters on a three-part series about Wal-Mart's labor practices that won the Times a Pulitzer Prize. That, she had hoped, would convince her editors of the value of covering labor, but in the end it didn't, she says. "They don't consider themselves hostile to working-class concerns, but they're all making too much money to relate to the problems that working-class people are facing," observed Cleeland, who is now writing about high school dropouts.

Despite her strong urging, the paper has yet to name anyone to replace her. (Russ Stanton, the Los Angeles Times's business editor, says that the paper did value Cleeland's reporting, as shown by her many front-page stories. However, with his section recently losing six of its forty-eight reporters and facing more cuts, he said, her position is unlikely to be filled anytime soon.)

Link via Tim McGarry's blog, Angels and Vagabonds.

* In another section of the story, LAT writer Ken Silverstein rails against the paper's quest for balance that sometimes waters down tough conclusions. He apparently wrote a memo to editors after his investigative reporting on voter fraud by Republicans was diluted:

I am completely exasperated by this approach to the news. The idea seems to be that we go out to report but when it comes time to write we turn our brains off and repeat the spin from both sides. God forbid we should...attempt to fairly assess what we see with our own eyes. "Balanced" is not fair, it's just an easy way of avoiding real reporting and shirking our responsibility to inform readers.

Washington bureau chief Doyle McManus also says it's "nuts" for the Times to have left its environmental reporter beat in D.C. unfilled for years.

10:15 am

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