Los Angeles County photo
The retirement tour of Associated Press special correspondent Linda Deutsch continued today at the Los Angeles County Hall of Administration. The Board of Supervisors honored Deutsch with a proclamation via the office of Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. As part of the day, Deutsch answered questions from Kuehl technology deputy Nik Swiatek. Here's the whole thing, and a sample:
When did you transition to trial reporting?
In ‘68 Bobby Kennedy was killed in LA, and that changed the world, let alone my life. I covered some of the assassination, and then was assigned to be the backup reporter on the Sirhan trial. That was the first high-profile trial I got to see up close. In 1969, in August, Sharon Tate and her friends were killed in probably the most gruesome, horrific, world-shattering mass-murder that we had ever had in Los Angeles. I covered the killings and was then following the case until the Manson Family people were arrested and then I covered the trial for well over a year. I was still quite young, so I was supposed to be doing it with another reporter who came in from New York. But he got one look at the craziness of the Manson case – people erupting in the courtroom, the girls camped on the sidewalk, people saying the trial would last a year – and he said “I think I had a vacation scheduled” and he left, and never came back. So there I was covering the biggest trial in LA, one of the biggest trials in history actually, for the world’s largest news agency, by myself.
If there was one change you could make in the news today, what would it be?
Well, I would probably give reporters more time to cover trials. One reason why I’m leaving is that the chance to cover a trial from gavel-to-gavel is becoming more and more rare. News organizations don’t have the staff, they don’t have the time, and they don’t have the money. I don’t think that today I would be sent to a lot of places I went to cover trials. I went to Alaska to cover the Exxon Valdez Trial. I was there for five months. I doubt that anybody would do that now, but they should. And they should have one reporter who has their eyes and ears on the case throughout. Who can give the kind of in-depth coverage that I offered, which was from the viewpoint of someone who saw it all and could compare witnesses and could compare what happened one day with the next. Give it color and look at the trial as a kind of microcosm of history and what was going on in the country at that time. I don’t think many reporters are given that opportunity now, nor are there reporters who are becoming experts in trials because it’s not the most popular specialty. Trial reporters are becoming few and far between. And I would hope that organizations encourage coverage. The justice system is one of the most important features of our democracy and without reporters to cover it there will be no oversight.
Deutsch announced in December that she would stop covering trials for AP and would write a book about her career. She has been getting some nice plaudits and invitations, including a tribute this past weekend at the Golden Mike awards, with a freedom of information award from the Radio-Television News Association of Southern California.
This is the first time I've poked around Kuehl's new website. She has dropped the more or less independent pursuit of stories that her predecessor, Zev Yaroslavsky, allowed his staff to publish. ZevWeb, as I dubbed it, was staffed and edited by ex-journalists. Kuehl's website has a fresher, bigger design but keeps pretty close to the classic politician model of promoting the boss. There is a detailed staff bio page that more electeds should adopt, in my opinion.
The Kuehl website is a lot more inviting and useful than the site of Hilda Solis, who came onto the Board of Supervisors at the same time as Kuehl, but with many months more of preparation time. I can't find anything there about Solis' staff.