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Beachcomber: Covering Local Government

  • By David Barron

DavidBarronThe recent coverage of problems among elected officials have set off a chain reaction which I think will not have good results.


Intense media coverage by both the daily newspapers and television puts public officials -- both elected and appointed officials - under a microscope. I think this is good.

News media, particularly the print media, is competing for the latest “got you” story. Unfortunately, this will probably go away in a few months and coverage of local government will disappear, except for unique situations.

News media needs to cover local governments, and that includes city councils, board of supervisors, school boards, water boards, etc on a regular basis. Every meeting is important, even if there are only routine matters on the agenda.

There was a time when the L. A. Times, the Tribune and the Wave newspapers had regular seats in the city council meetings.

Unfortunately, most news media do not have enough resources to hire correspondents to cover those meetings.
Instead, newspapers have resorted to “Public Records Act” requests in gathering data, which they use as a basis for stories. Data about how much people are paid, how much vacation and sick time they got paid and how much consultants get paid. This is all good stuff, but it doesn’t get to the nuts and bolts of how our government  agencies are run.

I ran a “Help Wanted” ad in the Journal for “stringers’ to cover local city councils. I got one response. A stringer is a sort of volunteer correspondent.

The ideal stringer would consistently attend each meeting of an agency and get to know the key players and issues. Government is a complex process, but you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out what is going on.

Covering city council meetings, for example, are not that difficult because many, such as Rosemead and Monterey Park broadcast their meetings on the Internet. You can sit home and watch the meeting live, or later on, in your home computer.

Some of the minor agency boards, hold their meetings at odd hours and may be inconvenient, if not impossible to cover. These board hold meetings at 7 a.m. in the morning or during the day -- times when working citizens are busy or at work. They also do not broadcast or carefully record the meetings.

If you are interested in becoming a “stringer,” give me a call, I have plenty of openings.

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