When my wife Nancy and I drove to downtown Los Angeles recently, we remarked on the changes since she and I retired from Arco and the Los Angeles Times many years ago.
The permanence of those institutions was part of our lives. We figured they would be there forever. But nothing is permanent, especially in L.A. Bigger and newer buildings now overshadow the Arco tower, where she was in charge of political communications. The sign with the oil company name has been replaced by that of a law firm. The Times building, my alma mater, a mile or so to the east, has been emptied of its newspaper connections. The journalists and equipment have moved to new headquarters in El Segundo.
We continued east on the 110, passing the new buildings, making a mental note to dine at Cafe Pinot on her upcoming birthday and perhaps drop in on the adjoining central library, two of our favorite downtown spots. Then off at Fourth Street, through city streets to attend a Sunday afternoon concert by the California Philharmonic at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, one of the new downtown's greatest adornments.
As I often do, I took a moment to look at three civic center area buildings that date back to long before Disney Hall. I worry that they--and the important work done inside them--will be ignored amid the hype over the new downtown, its hotels, restaurants and fading old office buildings from the 1920s and 1930s now converted into expensive residences. The buildings I worry about are the county Hall of Administration, Los Angeles City Hall and the criminal courts building.
The criminal justice system is shaped by decisions made every day in the courthouse--in courtrooms, offices and corridors where attorneys work out deals. The county building and the city hall are home to countless decisions, big and small, that determines many aspects of our lives.
When I was a reporter for the Times, I spent many hours in these buildings, sitting through meetings, waiting outside offices, trying vainly to stay awake through long discussions of transportation. This is called beat reporting and generations of reporters used to do it for a living. From such nose-to-the- grindstone work, government was held accountable on a daily basis. Often, the beat reporters would put the dailies together for big stories, scoops.
This was the heart and soul of local journalism, pretty much lost as advertising, readers and viewers went elsewhere. As I look at the Hall of Administration and think of all the reporters who battled to crack the secretive code of county government, I hope the neglectful days have bottomed out. This is the time for the new owner of the LA Times, the executives of the revitalized KPCC and other new media to step up to the challenge. Disney Hall is inspiring and many of the new restaurants and bars are very good. They are fun to write about but the media shouldn't devote all its attention to them while important, if sometimes dry, business is done elsewhere.