the kicker

Cleeland lets loose

Times takes it on the chin
May 29, 2007

Nancy Cleeland, formerly of the Los Angeles Times, writes a farewell screed today over at The Huffington Post to the paper to which she’s bidding adieu. She’s one of the fifty-six staffers who have decided to take buyouts from the Tribune Company. But her reasons for leaving, at least to hear her recount them, are not motivated by financial or career concerns. She angry with the Times‘ coverage–or dearth of coverage–of the poor, working class, immigrant communities in the city of angels. It’s a protest buyout.

“Instead of hiring a ‘celebrity justice reporter,’ now being sought for the Times Web site, why not develop a beat on economic justice?” Cleeland asks.

A lot of her beef is with the state of the American economy itself, which she feels has become too relentlessly free market (a problem that also plagues newspaper owners, like the Tribune Company, who have become obsessed with the bottom line). But she also has a word about her editors and what might be impairing their ability to cover the poor and immigrant class: “The senior editors are not bad people. Like most journalists, they are in the business for the noblest of reasons. But in a region of increasing polarization, where six figure incomes put them in the top tier of the economy, they may not see the inequities in their own backyard.”

When critics of the MSM rush to assume nefarious motives on the part of newspaper editors, I often feel these conspiracy theorists forget that there’s a much simpler and human reason for why certain stories don’t got covered. Listen to it from Cleeland, a seasoned and frustrated reporter: the problem is not necessarily political bias, it’s just the blindness of only knowing what you know and seeing what you see.

Gal Beckerman is a former staff writer at CJR and a writer and editor for the New York Times Book Review.