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OUTSIDE THE TENT

The Times Treats Cool County Like Cudahy

Outside the Tent is an occasional column in which the Los Angeles Times invites an outside critic to heap contempt upon a Southern California newspaper whose weather page's "Air Quality Key" bears a scary resemblance to terror code warnings.

June 12, 2005|Gustavo Arellano | Gustavo Arellano is a staff writer with OC Weekly and fourth-generation Orange Countian. He also urges The Times to coax legendary baseball writer -- and Orange County resident -- Ross Newhan out of retirement.

Don't let the landslide of news stories spilling out of Laguna Beach fool you: The Los Angeles Times usually -- bizarrely -- ignores a region of 3 million souls in its backyard, a 789-square-mile coastal empire that three television programs use to show the peculiarities of what USA Today once called the "capital of cool."

Orange County is a Sutter's Mill for journalists, yet The Times, California's preeminent newspaper, treats us as an afterthought, a nuisance, a Cudahy.

In truth, our sliver of the Southland is infinitely more interesting than the entirety of Los Angeles County. Stories with national implications unfold daily.

Example: A judge recently released more than 10,000 pages of documents relating to the largest sex-abuse settlement in the history of the Roman Catholic Church. The Times, while devoting many articles to the matter, has failed miserably in my view to connect the potentially DaVinci Code-like pattern of cover-up dots.

And what happened to Times coverage of Orange County developer George Argyros, a major Republican campaign contributor who, as ambassador to Spain from 2001 to 2004, was the talk of the Spanish press but virtually invisible in The Times -- even as Spain joined and then left the Iraq war's "coalition of the willing."

Orange County is where the nation turns for guidance in building master-planned communities and GOP dominance. Orange County is where the illegal immigration wars burn the fiercest. Orange County spawns some of the most important religious movements in the country, including Rick Warren's Saddleback Church in Lake Forest and the dignified imams of the Islamic Society of Orange County.

But the only regular county coverage The Times offers is on the Angels -- and now those traitors belong to Los Angeles. Local food and entertainment reviews are rare. Major stories become byline-less blurbs.

One recent Sunday, The Times offered -- besides Angel coverage -- only two Orange County articles in 532 pages. One, a piece on our bounty of fossils, was charming but of such little consequence that the weekly at which I work has an intern working the story. The other, a regular column that appears thrice a week, doesn't count. The alt-weekly conspiracist in me believes a nefarious Mainstream Media plot causes this lack of Orange County coverage in The Times. My native-son side blames the same snootiness that fuels the New York-L.A. rivalry.

But the real reason is that Spring Street simply retreated from the land of Richard Nixon and gang-rape mistrials. During the 1980s, The Times' Orange County bureau in Costa Mesa housed more than 200 staffers. That Times covered everything -- local entertainment, restaurants, our county's kooky politicians. Times' reporters broke stories and continually trumped our Podunk paper of record, the famously bland Orange County Register.

Sadly, The Times' Orange County bureau has continued to atrophy in the years since Tribune Co. purchased the paper. The local Orange County section was replaced by the "California" section that allotted but one page to Orange County. Soon, that page became maybe three stories. Sometimes, there's nothing. And, last month, The Times reassigned one of its two Orange County-based editorial writers to places unknown. To say that the Orange County edition is worthy of the name is like saying you still own a Chevrolet after it meets the hard end of a wall.

About 15 Times staffers remain in Costa Mesa to cover the county, a total barely larger than that of our small rag. It's just a matter of time before Tribune rents offices in its near-vacant building to immigrant families from Santa Ana, the country's most-crowded city. Things are so bad that that The Times recruited a former staff writer in April to explain Orange County to readers of the Los Angeles Times Magazine. The piece was a laugher, relying on cliches and parachute journalism to paint a stereotype that was true maybe 20 years ago but not today.

Please, L.A. Times -- come back to Orange County. Rescue us from the maudlin fish wrap that is the Register. Give us the same love you devote to Fresno. At the very least, send us back Agustin Gurza. The former Orange County Latino-issues columnist was going to be our Ruben Salazar -- and instead, ustedes stuck him in the cell that is Calendar.

And one more thing: "the OC" shorthand Times writers are so fond of using? No true Orange Countian uses it -- and I'm even counting Kobe Bryant.

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