Sports Journalism Institute

Helping women and minorities get into newsrooms since 1993

In tough year, L.A. Times hits Grand Slam

Nestled just east of Bunker Hill in downtown Los Angeles, at the corner of 1st and Spring Streets lies the Los Angeles Times Building—home to the national powerhouse of journalism.

By Christopher Lopez
SJI Class of 2018

The Los Angeles Times has long represented the upper echelons of journalism and story-telling, and perhaps the section that best embodies this mission is its Sports Section, among the most widely read sports sections in the country.

This year, after writing stories about many topics including everything from the Dodgers’ first World Series appearance in 29 years, the surprise success of the Rams, the stressful situation with three UCLA Basketball players in China, and the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, the Times was awarded the “Grand Slam”—sweeping four awards in the annual Associated Press Sports Editors awards.

The Times’ sports editor Angel Rodriguez was ecstatic and humbled with the section’s haul.

“This year I think we really focused on some things that were important to us, to accomplish, and that was long form journalism and I think that that really helped us in a lot of ways,” Rodriguez said. “I think the focus really was, let’s try to give our readers something more than just what they’re used to seeing in the sports section.”

Given the inherently pervasive nature of Los Angeles-area sports, Rodriguez and staff have been tasked with bringing local and national coverage to its wide-sweeping audience.

The section’s coverage was challenged by the impending sale of the newspaper, which forced several sections of the paper to make cutbacks.

Rodriguez noted while the sports section was one of the sections that was least affected by the flux in ownership, there were still significant hurdles that the section had to climb.

“It was distracting, as all the stuff that happened near the end of the year and into the early part of the year, were difficult to deal with,” Rodriguez said. “Travel expenses have been kind of an onerous process and just because they kind of changed our travel and expense software, it became a lot more difficult for the reporters to do the basic stuff with the website and different things like that.”

Because Rodriguez’s section has a significant number of journalists that are regularly traveling with teams, the reporters could avoid the drama ongoing in the office.

Much of this arsenal of journalists, including a blend of long-time columnists and young beat writers, was put to work for the World Series—the first to come to Los Angeles since 1988, and second since the Angels won the 2002 Fall Classic in Anaheim, extensively covered by the paper.

The Dodgers and Astros were very well-matched opponents, as each game was an instant classic night after night.

In Game 3 in Houston, the Astros’ Yulieski Gurriel hit a long home run off then-Dodgers’ pitcher Yu Darvish. In the dugout, the MLB International Feed caught Gurriel using his hands to slant his eyes, and captured Gurriel muttering the world “chinito” in a mocking way.

The Times’ sports columnist Dylan Hernandez—who served as the Dodgers beat writer before becoming a columnist—was in a unique position to offer a perspective on this issue due to his having a Salvadoran father and a Japanese mother.

Naturally, Rodriguez encouraged Hernandez to pursue a column that strayed away from the normal, “Gurriel is a racist” angle.

“… it (the column) allowed for a lot more nuanced discussion about what was happening,” Rodriguez said. “Because he had been called “chinito” growing up, and because he had some Asian characteristics playing mostly with Mexican and Central American soccer players growing up, he never took it as an insult. He was able to bring a completely different perspective to the discussion.”

This diverse perspective—something which Rodriguez touts as the strength of the section—was likely one of the multitude of reasons that it was awarded a Grand Slam.

Rodriguez believes that this perspective will strengthen under the Times’ new owner: Prominent Los Angeles investor Patrick Soon-Shiong, who decided to purchase the paper from Tronc. When he initially purchased the paper, Soon-Shiong stressed the importance of local ownership and investing in the quality of journalism.

This change was a welcome one for Rodriguez, as he praised Soon-Shiong’s commitment to adding resources amid a newsroom that has been “stretched-thin” at times.

Recently, Soon-Shiong announced plans to relocate the Times’ headquarters from its historic home to El Segundo—a town nearly 20 miles from downtown. And while reporters were left anxious about a new commute, some lamenting a traffic-filled drive, Rodriguez remained optimistic that the sports section would continue to produce high-quality content regardless of where the office was located.

“I kind of compare to a quarterback of a football team,” Rodriguez said of his job. “When the team does well you get a lot of the credit, and when the team does poorly you get a lot of the criticism. Thankfully we’re on a good run here and in the 3 years I’ve been here I’m still amazed at the quality of people I get to work with.”