George Skelton observes 40 years of change in Sacramento

george-skelton-bug.jpgGeorge Skelton, the Los Angeles Times columnist in Sacramento, notes in his latest column that he had his first story in the paper 40 years ago — a front-pager about Ronald Reagan heading into the final year of his two terms as governor. "Unbeknown to most people outside this business, nothing is more important to a news reporter — short of accuracy — than landing on Page 1," he says. Skelton's second story, by the way, was about some far-reaching political reforms proposed by the young Secretary of State — Jerry Brown &mdash. Skelton covered the White House for awhile in the President Reagan years and I think was on the desk in LA for awhile, but for most of his decades at the paper he has been stationed in the state capital. While a lot has stayed the same in Sacramento, a lot has changed — especially in the media, Skelton observes.

At the state Capitol, the press corps has dwindled dramatically as newspapers have folded, merged and downsized. Fewer eyes are watching the politicians. When Reagan was governor, major TV stations in Los Angeles and San Francisco operated Capitol bureaus. Now none do.

My hiring increased The Times' staff in Sacramento to five. Gradually that tripled, then tumbled during layoffs. We're now at eight, the largest out-of-town news bureau in Sacramento by far. (The Sacramento Bee has a Capitol staff of 10.)

Reporters today are asked to do more because of technology. As everyone has learned, technology's purpose is not to lighten the workload. It's to expand the potential work.
In one way, however, we've come full circle. I left United Press International for The Times to escape a "deadline every minute" culture that required wire service reporters to constantly update their stories all day. That reduced time for real reporting.

Until recent years, newspaper reporters could spend the day digging into substance before sitting down to write. These days, they're pressured into blogging and updating, leaving less time for unearthing facts. The public may get the news faster, but in less depth.

Skelton looks back at four decades and offers the opinion that there is less corruption in Sacramento now, but more of it in the news because it is easier to uncover — "thanks in part to Jerry Brown's old political reform." And people are more cynical and uncivil. By the way, Skelton doesn't say he's retiring. He's just marking forty years.

By the way, I'm guessing there are at most only a few newsroom staffers left with more LA Times seniority than Skelton's 40 years. I can only think of one offhand, database editor Doug Smith.

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