LAT editor's backstory on 'Inside the Cartel'

I just received the first of what I gather could be several, perhaps dozens, of forwarded farewell notes from staffers departing the Los Angeles Times newsroom in the next little while. At least one fairly senior writer type has been telling people outside the paper there could be sixty exits this week via buyouts or layoffs, but I have no confirmation of that number. (Earlier alert that stuff was happening.) Meanwhile, editor Russ Stanton sent out this note Saturday praising the Times' series on the Sinaloa drug cartel that began this weekend. Memo below:


I want to call your attention to the latest of our major enterprise efforts, “Inside the Cartel,” which is up on and will anchor the front page of Sunday’s print edition.

This outstanding four-part series by Rich Marosi comes out of our continuing and comprehensive coverage of the Mexican drug wars, now in its fourth year. Rich’s project, which itself was more than two years in the making, is a tour de force of reporting and writing – an absorbing, character-rich anatomy of the Sinaloa cartel.

This project began with a series of questions: How do illegal drugs make their way into this country and onto the streets of our cities? Can we learn about the guts of cartel operations? If so, can we bring the subject to life for our readers?

The search for answers took Rich to courthouses and DEA offices, across the sun-baked Imperial Valley and the smokestack cities of southeast L.A. County, to Bell and to the Bronx. Tracy Wilkinson, our Mexico City bureau chief, contributed fearless and valuable reporting from Badiraguato, the heartland of Mexican drug trafficking.

Speaking of fearless, photographer Don Bartletti brought his creativity and tenacity to the task of illustrating the stories. He traveled to Culiacan, Mexico, to photograph a cartel chief’s mansion. He searched Death Valley for the landing strips used by cocaine pilots, and he flew in a single-engine plane to replicate one air smuggler’s route. Mary Cooney edited the photos, and Bryan Chan helped Don fashion an audio slide show.

Raoul Rañoa, with help from Tom Reinken and Thomas Suh Lauder, created vivid print and Web graphics detailing how traffickers conceal drugs in vehicles, smuggle the goods into Southern California, stack and pack them in stash houses, and transport them to all corners of the U.S.

Geoff Mohan, a guiding light for much of our coverage of Mexico’s drug war, gave Rich crucial early guidance on how to report and write the series. Steve Clow helped bring the project home.

Laura Dominick copy-edited the stories, conjuring her usual unforgettable headlines (“Big Rigs and Black Magic,” for a story about how psychics advise the cartel on the timing of drug shipments). Deborah McKown slotted the series.

Maloy Moore and Ben Welsh worked with Rich to create a rich online display of source documents. Megan Garvey, with help from Web producers Armand Emamdjomeh, Sue Timmons and Paul Olund, wove these and other elements into an engaging presentation at Michael McGehee and Jeff Amlotte produced videos for the Web. Kelli Sullivan created a dazzling design for the newspaper.

This project is yet another example of the ambition, quality and value of Los Angeles Times journalism and one of which we can be immensely proud.

Russ Stanton

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