The power and corruption of big institutions was once far greater, says Robert Gottlieb, a historian of the L.A. Times. Then, as now, social movements are our best defense.
The demise of a dynamic media ecosystem diminished L.A. but a renaissance may be underway.
The L.A. Times newsroom remains in a state of siege. Tronc has established an alternative editorial team for its shadowy “Los Angeles Times Network,” and has declined to explain to Times staffers what its intentions are for this new enterprise.
By 11:30 a.m. Friday morning the votes were tallied in the first-ever union vote taken by L.A. Times editorial staffers: 248 in favor, 44 opposed.
Thursday’s vote by Los Angeles Times editorial staffers to choose or reject unionization was overseen by the National Labor Relations Board at the paper’s downtown building and Orange County offices.
Today, over 350 Los Angeles Times reporters and editorial staff will vote on whether to allow NewsGuild CWA to represent them at the famously anti-union company.
A recent L.A. Times story profiled a fast-food worker who, according to reporter Don Lee, would lose eligibility for Medicaid if his wages were raised to $15. His wage gains could be “wiped out” by the higher health care costs he’d end up paying. Lee’s portrayal was inaccurate and misleading.
The story centers on 53-year-old Douglas Hunter, a Chicago McDonald’s cook and a leader in the Fight for $15, a national movement of fast-food workers who are pushing for $15 in hourly wages and the right to form a union without employer retaliation.
Hunter is currently enrolled in CountyCare, a Medicaid-managed care plan that pays for his health care, including more than $700 per month in medications and supplies he needs to manage his diabetes, cholesterol and blood pressure. Contrary to Lee’s assertion, Hunter would still qualify for Medicaid based on his income if his wage were raised to $15.
There they go again.
Last Saturday, three days before the election, the Los Angeles Times ran a somewhat bewildering piece about Proposition 47, the California state ballot initiative that seeks to de-felonize certain nonviolent crimes that are currently counted toward a convict’s three-strike tally.
“Prop. 47 puts state at center of a national push for sentencing reform,” ran the feature’s headline on the Times’ website. (“Ground Zero for Penal Reform,” was the print version’s more succinct headline.) And, sure enough, for the first 300 words the piece is pretty much a description of Prop. 47, while noting its major funders are philanthropist George Soros and several liberal foundations. Then, however, in the seventh paragraph (a jump page in the print edition), we get what the Times really wants to say:
The coordination by a few wealthy foundations to change public policy represents a legitimate but worrying form of political influence,
A 40-foot fall isn’t necessarily fatal for the average adult. But for California’s public employees whose jobs require them to routinely work on ladders or mechanical devices at heights more than 40 feet, it was deemed enough of a threat to life and limb to offer them a modest premium in their monthly pay packet.
In the case of firefighters, it also seemed sensible to kick in a little more for the tiller operators that control the 100-foot aerial ladders from which their brothers occasionally rescue a taxpayer from a burning building.
In fact, 99 such hazard premiums and professionalizing workforce incentives that have historically been considered pensionable compensation for public workers were deemed to be such no-brainers that they passed the scrutiny of the legislature and the governor when Jerry Brown signed into law 2012’s Public Employee Pension Reform Act (PEPRA). Today the average public pension in California is $2,945 per month.
On Sunday, November 3, the Los Angeles Times ran a 429-word story, “Wal-Mart kicks off Christmas way early, helping to kill Black Friday,” on the retail giant’s plan to entice customers to do their Christmas shopping early by marking down prices weeks before the traditional day-after-Thanksgiving bargains. Providing Walmart with tens of thousands of dollars of free advertising, the story reported that “Deals include 36 percent savings on a JVC 42-inch LED television and 51 percent savings on a 10-inch Xelio tablet — at $299 for the TV and $49 for the tablet, those are the lowest tags Wal-Mart has ever put on those products.” Surely this is the kind of “news” that a Walmart PR executive drools over.
In contrast, the Times’ coverage of last Thursday’s anti-Walmart protest — one of the largest local civil disobedience actions in the company’s history — garnered a puny 163-word story,
You wouldn’t know it from the Los Angeles Times’ recent coverage, but the labor contract with International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 18 currently under consideration by city officials is a good deal for Department of Water and Power (DWP) customers and the city as a whole, and city officials would be wise to approve it, even if there are minor changes made to the deal. A regular reader might also miss the fact that Los Angeles has some of the lowest utility rates and most reliable service in the region.
A cursory review of the L.A. Times website reveals that the newspaper has published some 18 stories on issues related to labor costs at DWP over the last year. (This accounting does not include the Times’ coverage of the mayoral campaign in which IBEW Local 18’s support of Wendy Greuel became an issue.) Meanwhile,
The ripples continue to spread from Frying Pan News reporter Gary Cohn’s piece on California’s enterprise zones, which were created in 1984 to help small businesses and create jobs by giving tax breaks to companies in the state’s economically depressed regions. Last Friday the Fresno Bee called for reform of the zones and today a Los Angeles Times editorial declared that nothing less than pulling the plug on the program would do.
The zones, said the Times, “were a well-intentioned experiment that was tried, failed and has been kept around too long. This is one experiment that should be ended, not merely mended.”
Cohn’s May 28 article appeared at the same time Governor Jerry Brown was maneuvering to reform the program out of existence. The Frying Pan News story emphasized that 61 percent of the enterprise program’s beneficiaries are companies with more than $1 billion in assets,
The L.A. Times has not exactly been falling all over itself lately to curry favor with the city’s labor movement, with a seemingly endless stream of news stories, columns and editorials portraying unions in a less than sympathetic light. So the last thing one might have expected to see was a rally of workers and labor leaders coming to the defense of L.A.’s paper of record.
But desperate times call for desperate measures – and with the Koch brothers potentially poised to take over Spring Street, the present moment certainly meets the test.
In case you have tuned out the Times and every other source of local news, Charles and David Koch – patron saints of the Tea Party, best friends to climate change deniers and bankrollers of an endless parade of far-right causes – have set their sights on the Tribune Company’s empire. After emerging from a bankruptcy brought on by the rapacious practices of former owner Sam Zell,
From time to time we may gripe about individual stories or columns that appear in the Los Angeles Times, but it remains our city’s paper of record and a powerful source of investigative journalism – at a time when such journalism has rapidly given way to rumor-sourced blogs written by dilettantes or pundits. That the Los Angeles Times may become the private toy of America’s most partisan conservative interests is not just a bad dream — right-wing billionaires Charles and David Koch may actually soon be running the paper, and it’s up to all of us to stop them.
It’s difficult to overstate how damaging it would be if the Koch brothers succeed in buying one of the country’s most influential newspapers. The Koch brothers would almost certainly use the Times to promote their ultra-conservative agenda. That would mean the end of fair,
Rainey’s story is generally a good one, filled with facts and figures. He’s even careful to use his data to set the record straight when it contradicts what one of his interviewees says. For example, after the County Federation of Labor’s Maria Elena Durazo says “that the average city worker receives $32,000 in retirement,” Rainey writes, “The website for the city’s civilian retirement system puts the average pension benefit for 12,000 current retirees about 40 percent higher than Durazo’s figure.”
Okay, so he checks Durazo’s stats and she appears to be mistaken.
The Pasadena/Foothills Chapter of American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California ACLU-SC honored longtime Los Angeles Times journalist, editor and commentator Tim Rutten at its 12th Annual Garden Party on October 2 at the Western Justice Center in Pasadena. Rutten, who had been let go this past summer after nearly 40 years at the Times, spoke to the more than 100 attendees of the threat to civil liberties by the demise of the press in the country and concentration into fewer and fewer corporate hands. He talked about a wide range of topics concerning knowledge, ignorance, and the consequences of media conglomeration.
“The coming concentration of the media is probably a bigger threat to your civil liberties than anything the government’s doing right now,” he said.
“Knowledge isn’t just power, it’s self-protection. Most of the newspapers in this country today are hollow shells of what they were 10 years ago and sadly diminished from what they were five years ago,” Rutten continued.