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Herald Examiner photographers reflect on the good ol' days

As the L.A. Public Library helps their work live on online, some of the defunct newspaper's photo staff recall their years of hustling to compete with The Times.

May 12, 2013|By Larry Harnisch, Los Angeles Times
  • Dean Musgrove, left, former Herald Examiner photographer and current photo editor at the Daily News, moderates panel at the L.A. Central Library, which has put 90,000 images from the defunct Herald Examiner's archives online.
Dean Musgrove, left, former Herald Examiner photographer and current… (Lawrence K. Ho, Los Angeles…)

Nick Souza doesn't remember developing the film of what he considers his most noteworthy front-page photo. He doesn't even recall printing the image. What he does remember is "standing on a giant ladder in the middle of Broadway" to photograph co-workers lined up in front of the old Herald Examiner.

"I quickly snapped some photos of the editors, reporters and photographers that ended up being run six columns wide," he said, "with the headline: 'So Long, L.A.'"

A generation has come of age since the death of Hearst's Los Angeles Herald Examiner on Nov. 2, 1989, a digital generation that has no memory of The Times' scrappy competitor. Once the nation's largest afternoon paper, the Herald was a victim of changing lifestyles and a long, bruising strike, a publication that was losing about $2 million a month when it folded.

Herald Examiner photos: A column in the May 13 Section A about a reunion of Los Angeles Herald Examiner photographers said that the Los Angeles Public Library had scanned about 90,000 images from the defunct newspaper's archives and placed them on the Web. In fact, the library's online collection of 90,000 images contains about 10,000 pictures from the Herald. In addition, the article referred to a photograph of O.J. Simpson carrying the Olympic torch up a hill in Pacific Palisades in 1984. Simpson carried the torch up the California Incline in Santa Monica, which is straddled by Palisades Park. —

Today, the Herald's pages are preserved on reels of microfilm, accessible only to those willing to make the trek to the Los Angeles Public Library or other research facilities.

But the newspaper's photos have found new life online. The library has scanned about 90,000 images from the Herald's 2.2 million pictures and placed them on the Web, with hundreds added each month, becoming one of the Internet's primary resources on Los Angeles history.

Former Herald photographers may be surprised by their newfound recognition, but as photo curator Christina Rice said at a panel discussion in March: "You really are rock stars for those of us who work with the collection."

The panel, called "L.A. in Focus: Tales From the Los Angeles Herald Examiner," was a boisterous reunion of Herald alumni and a bittersweet reflection on what it was like to be a photographer at the time — especially a Herald photographer.

The equipment in those days was strictly for black and white: 36-frame rolls of Kodak Tri-X film shot with Nikon 35-millimeter cameras and printed on 11-by-14-inch sheets of Kodabromide paper on the theory that oversize prints would convince page designers to give them bigger play. Unlike today's digital cameras, there was no way for photographers to know if they got the shot until they went back to the office and processed the film.

The Herald photographers were diverse before diversity came of age: Latino, Asian American, African American and women, sometimes cooperative and sometimes competitive, united by one goal: "Beat the L.A. Times."

James Ruebsamen, who was hired in 1981, said: "We'd have one photographer out there and The Times typically would have anywhere from four to six photographers. Our chief Jim Roark simply told us 'When you come back, you had better have something better than the whole bunch.' And that was our challenge. We didn't make any money, but we sure had fun, and we challenged ourselves and we challenged The Times. The Times was probably the best thing we had going for us. It made us better photographers than maybe we would have been."

The photo staff was young and fairly green. Anne Knudsen, who started in 1979 as an intern, said: "They made sure they got the cheapest, most inexperienced college students, who had no business being photographers at a major metropolitan newspaper covering world-class news. It gave us this opportunity that was incredible."

What they saw through their viewfinders was Los Angeles from the late 1960s to the '80s: The Whittier earthquake, the crash of an Aeromexico jetliner in Cerritos, the Lakers with Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the Rams and the Raiders. Don Ameche and Cher at the Academy Awards. The Grammys with Michael Jackson or Whitney Houston. Evel Knievel, the Rolling Stones or Van Halen at the Coliseum. Charles Manson and his followers. Anti-tax crusader Howard Jarvis. Riots, fires, floods, car wrecks, the LAPD. And lots of plane crashes.

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