Back to the future on local coverage

The L.A. Times is going back to reporter "bureaus" placed around the Los Angeles area, in hopes of flushing out more local news. The paper has had them before, then justified dropping them by calling it more efficient to run reporters off the city desk downtown — and started them again, and dropped them again. Now they're back yet again, apparently on a reduced scale. Here's the memo.

To: The Staff
From: David Lauter, California Editor

Many of you have heard me talk about my goal of establishing new bureaus in key parts of the region. As I've said before, getting more reporters out into the communities that make up Southern California is a crucial step that will allow us to broaden and deepen our news report. Establishing these bureaus with strong, experienced reporters is a top priority.

Today, I'm very happy to announce that three outstanding reporters have agreed to take on the responsibility of being bureau chiefs. Each of them will direct a group of reporters, shaping coverage in a broad geographic region. The goal is to provide our readers a steady stream of high quality, sophisticated stories that will enliven A-1 and the California section for readers across Southern California.

John Mitchell will head our South county bureau. John has been with The Times even longer than I have. He came here initially in 1979, leaving behind his native New York. He has been a reporter on numerous high-profile stories, including the coverage of the 1992 riots for which this paper won a Pulitzer Prize. He has also been an editor, handling our statewide coverage, and a friend and mentor to many reporters who have moved through this newsroom. He is a founding board member of the Black Journalists Assn. of Southern California.

Jennifer Oldham will head our Valley bureau. Jennifer came to The Times in 1995 as a researcher in the Business section. She became a full-time reporter in 1999, covering a wide variety of business beats, including a consumer beat in which she uncovered the failure of the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission to handle thousands of cases of faulty attic furnaces in California. Her reporting led to the recall of the defective furnaces. In 2001, she came over to the Metro section where she became our LAX and regional airport beat reporter, quickly establishing herself as the expert on the region's tangled air transportation problems.

Hector Becerra will head our East county bureau. Hector is an LA. native. He was born and raised in Boyle Heights, attended Roosevelt High School and then Cal State LA, where he majored in English. In 1998, Hector came to work here as a summer intern. He then joined Metpro, was a reporter in Orange County, covered night cops and made himself an all around indispensable Metro reporter. His narrative writing has often graced Column One, and he has written numerous dailies, as well. Recently, he has become our resident expert on this year of drought and fire.

I've talked with several reporters already about joining these new bureaus, and over the next couple of weeks, I'll be working with John, Jennifer and Hector to complete the rosters and locate appropriate office space. The goal is to have the bureaus up and running early in the New Year.

The Times already keeps a Santa Monica bureau, staffed by reporter Martha Groves, and there may be one still in Long Beach. Groves used to have help, but the other reporters gradually slipped into other assignments. Attrition is a recurring syndrome with these bureaus, which also tend to become inundated by the local news that goes uncovered around Los Angeles County. Meanwhile, the heavyweight political interests that watch LAX will be waiting to see if the Times drops the airport beat or moves in someone who gets the politics there. (And they're probably wishing with crossed fingers that no aggressive investigative reporter discovers the story riches to be mined in the airport's hundreds of millions of dollars.) Added: Lauter tells LAO he has a candidate in mind for the LAX beat.

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