The closest television stations are in L.A., but they rarely cover Bell. There are six newspapers operating within a 10-mile radius of Bell (the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Daily News, the Los Angeles Downtown News, the Torrance Breeze, the Whittier Daily News, and the South Pasadena News); and 19 within 20 miles (including the Long Beach Press Telegram, the Orange County Register, and papers in Burbank and Pasadena). But the Bell, Maywood, Cudahy Community News, which used to be the local watchdog, was sold in 1998, just five years after Rizzo was hired, and it eventually went out of business.

The demise of smaller papers in the region has left the Los Angeles Times pretty much on its own to cover 88 municipalities and 10 million citizens. Metro editor David Lauter laments that his staff is “spread thinner and there are fewer people on any given area…. We’re not there every day, or even every week or every month. Unfortunately, nobody else is either.”

While the Times has a policy against disclosing specifics, Lauter wrote in an email that “the metro staff is just slightly less than half the size it was in September 2000 and about 30 percent smaller than in January 2008…. largely as a result of eliminating separate staffs in our far-flung suburban regions.” Times reporters Jeff Gottlieb, Ruben Vives, and Catherine Salliant learned about the unusually high salaries of Bell officials while investigating possible wrongdoing in the nearby community of Maywood. Gottlieb says Bell residents have been effusive in their thanks.

“They come to newspapers to have their wrongs overturned.”

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“Los Angeles, CA… A 30-minute TV news broadcast spent just 1 minute covering local education, health care AND government.”

“Information Needs of Communities,” page 13:

Topics like local education, health care, and government get minimal coverage. In a 2010 study of Los Angeles TV news by the Annenberg School of Communications, such topics took up just a little over one minute of the 30 minute broadcast. Only one out of 100 lead stories was about the ongoing budget crisis. In another study—of local broadcasters in 175 cities—coverage of city government was found to be about one-third as common as crime stories. Other studies have discovered the same pattern.

More stations are increasingly relying on “one-man bands”—reporters who interview, shoot, and edit. In some cases, this is a powerful and sensible efficiency that stations could use to increase the number of reporters in the field. But in many communities, that is not what has happened. “Let’s face it—it is what it is, and it is economic,” says Con Psarras, former news director at KSL in Salt Lake City. “It is an ability to cut heads and it is a full-time equivalent- reduction campaign. It does not make the pictures better, it does not make the stories better—it does not make the coverage on the web better. That’s a mythology—it just saves money.”48 One typical TV reporter said that while he was one-man banding, he was so busy tweeting, shooting, and editing, he had less time for interviews. “It’s the research. When I was one-man-banding, if I had interviewed one or two people, I’d say, hey, that’s enough to get on the air.”

Steven Waldman was senior advisor to the Chairman of the FCC and principal author of its report on the changing media landscape. He was chair of the Council on Foundations Working Group on Nonprofit Media and is a consultant to the Pew Research Center. Before that, he was the founder of Beliefnet.com and a national correspondent for Newsweek.