Last week's Los Angeles Times investigative series on judges in Las Vegas was impressive as a piece of reporting, but a bad sign for the paper, writes Jeffrey Brody, professor of communications at California State Fullerton. He is also co-author of The Newspaper Publishing Industry, a book that examined economic trends affecting papers. Here's his commentary, only at LA Observed:
The investigative reports about Nevada judges illustrate the strength of a great paper like the LA Times. It also illustrates the shortsightedness of the paper's editors at a time when the newspaper has been bleeding circulation. Rather than devote resources to investigating the California judiciary, a local story, the Times puts its energy in an out-of-state effort that will certainly win prizes but do little to boost readership in Southern California. The same thing happened when the Times did a wonderful story about Muslims in Nevada, ignoring the Muslim presence in Orange County. Excellent journalism can be produced in Southern California, journalism that will draw readers, if the Times staff familiarizes itself with the people who live there. It was deplorable that the Times ignored the vast amount of remittances sent by Vietnamese refugees to their families back home while documenting the experience of refugees across the country. Southern California has the largest concentration of Vietnamese in the world outside Vietnam.
A newspaper that has its core business in Southern California, and is losing circulation, needs to pay attention to the communities in its own backyard. Study after study stresses the importance of local news. The Times has many skilled journalists who could do a great job in Southern California. Better to focus on prize-winning reporting in your circulation area than risk losing more readers and face a sale to a media company that will diminish the quality of the institution.