Pulitzer Winner Explains Why She Took ‘L.A. Times’ Buyout

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By: E&P Staff

In a lengthy blog entry at The Huffington Post on Monday, Nancy Cleeland, who won a Pulitzer at the Los Angeles Times in 2004 related to Wal-Mart’s labor policies, explained why she was among 56 staffers at the paper who recently decided to take buyouts and exit.

An excerpt follows. The entire posting can be found at www.huffingtonpost.com.
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After 10 years, hundreds of bylines and some of the best experiences of my professional life, I’m leaving the Los Angeles Times at the end of this month, along with 56 newsroom colleagues. We each have our reasons for taking the latest buyout offer from Chicago-based Tribune Company. In my case, the decision grew out of frustration with the paper’s coverage of working people and organized labor, and a sad realization that the situation won’t change anytime soon.

It’s awkward to criticize an old friend, which I still consider the Times to be, but I think the question of how mainstream journalists deal with the working class is important and deserves debate. There may be no better setting in which to examine the issue: The Los Angeles region is defined by gaping income disparities and an enormous pool of low-wage immigrant workers, many of whom are pulled north by lousy, unstable jobs. It’s also home to one of the most active and creative labor federations in the country.

But you wouldn’t know any of that from reading a typical issue of the L.A. Times, in print or online. Increasingly anti-union in its editorial policy, and celebrity — and crime-focused in its news coverage, it ignores the economic discontent that is clearly reflected in ethnic publications such as La Opinion.

Of course, I realize that revenues are plummeting and newsroom staffs are being cut across the country. But even in these tough financial times, it’s possible to shift priorities to make Southern California’s largest newspaper more relevant to the bulk of people who live here. Here’s one idea: Instead of hiring a “celebrity justice reporter,” now being sought for the Times website, why not develop a beat on economic justice? It might interest some of the millions of workers who draw hourly wages and are being squeezed by soaring rents, health care costs and debt loads.

In Los Angeles, the underground economy is growing faster than the legitimate one, which means more exploited workers, greater economic polarization, and a diminishing quality of life for everyone who lives here. True, it’s harder to capture those kinds of stories than to scan divorce files and lawsuits. But over time, solid reporting on the economic life of Los Angeles could bring distinction and credibility to the Times. It also holds tremendous potential for interacting with readers. And, above all, it’s important …

Leaving a newspaper that was once my journalistic ideal is harder than I’d expected. It feels, I suppose, like walking out of a long marriage that was once filled with love and hope, but grew stale. There is nostalgia and regret, along with relief and new energy. I know it’s time to let go of the old dreams and move on to new ones. Already, the Los Angeles Times is becoming part of my past.

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