Bill Boyarsky
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Can Spectrum News 1 capture diverse L.A?

spectrum1-staff-grab.jpgA grab from the staff page at Spectrum 1 News.

I drove into the Spectrum News 1 headquarters parking lot Monday, a day after the cable news channel had won four Los Angeles Press Club awards for its coverage of local news. It was a notable accomplishment for a journalistic operation that been in the crowded L.A. media scene for just over a year.

I thought of the significance of my destination. Spectrum News 1 is located in El Segundo, which is also the new home of the Los Angeles Times. The South Bay city of just fewer than 17,000, once best known for oil refineries and aerospace, is becoming a Southland media capital.

I wanted to know what Spectrum News 1 is adding to the diminished number of local news outlets in the Southland.

Spectrum's El Segundo neighbor, the Times, has energized its local coverage under the ownership of Patrick Soon Shiong. But the web of suburban newspapers that covered the sprawling area has been weakened or disappeared and local television has retreated from the serious legal, political and education coverage that made it a force in the past.

Stacey L. Mitch, senior director of sports and news communications, who had invited me to check out the Spectrum operation, greeted me in the lobby. She introduced me to Cater Lee, vice president for news and content and a veteran of local television news. Another journalist joined us, senior news director Scott Warren, who also has long experience in L.A. news.

They told me their goal was to offer the viewers a look at Los Angeles unlike the crime and chases that are a staple of local television. "What could we do that is different," Lee said. "You don't need more of the same."

Spectrum in Los Angeles is one of 31 news and sports networks around the country. Spectrum News 1 is available to Spectrum subscribers. Spectrum also shows the Dodgers and the Lakers.

The operation has a staff of between 125 and 130, including 28 reporters, multi media journalists who shoot, report and write. They are assigned geographical areas and must live in the vicinity. Journalists must come up with their own stories, a few a week.

Spectrum is upbeat and tries to capture an L.A. that usually doesn't exist on local TV news. The characters in a Spectrum story have a neighborhood, person-on-the street quality, looking like my fellow shoppers at Ralphs.

A story on a Koreatown restaurant included reporting on Korean American culture. A piece on the new Los Angeles city council president, Nury Martinez, told about working class Latino L.A. neighborhoods through her experiences. Two stories on flu shots featured an older man patient and a smiling, positive Kaiser doctor. Weather is a constant, with many reports illustrated by sharp graphics.

Instead of filling the air with one fire report after another, Spectrum did a piece on the grueling day of busy fire station 9 in Skid Row, showing life among the homeless as well as the lives of the emergency workers in the nation's busiest fire house. But when the big fires exploded recently, the entire staff was mobilized, divided into 12-hour shifts.

Communications executive Stacey Mitch said in the past year, Spectrum "has increased viewership relative to competition."

Like Spectrum, I had struggled with the problems of portraying life in L.A. when I was a reporter, bureau chief, columnist and city editor at the Times. The place was too big, sprawling and diverse.

Now Spectrum is in the fray. Good luck. It's a tough world out there.

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