Help Us Help You: What Should We Be Looking for in an L.A. Writer

As we approach the close of the application process for the L.A. and Sacramento writers for Streetsblog; I thought it would be a good time to ask all of you what you think we should be looking for in a regular, daily, writer for the Los Angeles position.

streetsblog-logo-sxswWe know what a Sacramento writer’s skill and experience set should look like: something similar to Tanya Snyder and Angie Schmitt’s (or Sarah Goodyear and Elana Schor for those of you kicking it old school), but what should we be looking for in a partner for Sahra and I?

Of course, we want someone with excellent writing skills, a curious mind, and experience moving in Los Angeles without a car. But if you were given the choice between us hiring a professional journalist with years of experience who happens to live a car-free (or car-lite) lifestyle and a long-time advocate who has sharp writing skills which would you choose?

Steve Hymon or Stephen Box?

Leave your thoughts in the comments section. I’m really interested to see what people have to say. The application period ends Monday for both the Los Angeles and Sacramento writing positions.

(Note: For the record, neither Steve Hymon nor Stephen Box have expressed any interest in the position.)

  • Actually, for the Sacramento writer, it would be nice to see more stories on other cities in that area. Stockton, Modesto….even the north cali cities. You know, treesville and such.

  • Greg Costikyan

    Sahra and me. It would be “partner for us,” not “partner for me.”

  • Jass, the intention is someone covering state government not so much transportation in the Sacramento area. Much less Modesto.

    I think it isn’t what the background of the applicant is, whether in journalism or advocacy. The key word in the job description is “passion”. You have to have a passion for these issues to be willing to delve into the arcane and put up with the nonsense. It seems to me the interviews will be where it becomes obvious who has the sort of passion this position calls for.

  • calwatch

    Someone who has professional journalism skills would be nice… they wouldn’t necessarily have to be a veteran reporter at a major newspaper, but at least know the basics about interviewing and writing good pieces that tell a story from the perspectives of those interviewed rather than interjecting their own opinion. (I am no fan of Brian Addison, for instance, with his flip tone and snark thrown at those he disagrees with, but Sahra’s writing, after she got off the “Bart’s People” phase, has become really crisp and on par with what you see in the New York Times – like the recent story on the homeless girl Dasani in New York).

    It could be someone in the advocacy field already but they have to be fair and not categorically dismiss one side or another. If they want to dismiss them after showing why they’re wrong, fine. Passion is nice but they also have to have facts or be willing to learn. Especially the Sacramento reporter, where picking a former legislative or PR operative may not be a good idea since you don’t know where their biases are, whereas at least you know the PR director of a bicycle group has their pro-bike biases which can be kept in check through the editing process.

    I know Sahra takes a lot of time to research and craft the stories; they are really good and award winning as a result. The position being offered does not look like a long form writing position, more of a daily job, but someone that can go in depth as needed would be great.

  • UrbanLA

    Streetsblog strikes me as having a fairly serious tone overall. In order to expand beyond the “choir” to reach a broader audience, perhaps a writer with some attitude and snakiness would be effective, a la Curbed LA. Curbed has created a very effective and widely read website about buildings; Streetsblog could do the same for streets and public spaces.

  • Don

    A Glen Greenwald type who will dig deeply into LADOT CalTrans BOE and LAPD.

    Or Ubrayj of he’s up for it.

  • The danger is Curbed at times can be sloppy or provocative simply for the sake of getting attention (I mean, is the design of the La Brea/Wilshire new development really a crime against humanity?) Once looking at a Curbed article linking to one of my pieces here I concluded quickly they had barely glanced at what I wrote and woefully mis-characterized it. I even posted a comment pointing this out. We should set the bar higher here at Streetsblog.

  • As long as it is someone with a bit of tact. I could name several local activists whose abrasive behavior has undermined their ability to be effective. God help me, I recently had some spats at meetings with various clueless types. Maybe I should just suffer in silence fools more often instead of telling them they are fools. Digging deeply into LADOT CalTrans BOE and LAPD (much less Metro, LAWA, Amtrak and Metrolink) is a daunting task to undertake. Laura Nelson in the Times has done good pieces on the difficulties facing rail access to LAX and the way downtown streetcar proponents tried to keep quiet about the burgeoning budget numbers. Exposé journalism calls for enterprise. zeal and moxie. Is that what Streetsblog is looking for?

  • To Ubrayj or not to Ubrayj…

    I agree Ubrayj would be a great candidate. He can be obnoxious at times, no doubt, but when he’s done his homework his comments are very thought-provoking and in-depth. If he can resist making snark comments, he’ll be a huge asset to Streetsblog.

  • El Pedo

    LA is an abrasive city and people that find their friends dead or maimed are fucking pissed. Sometimes you got to fight fire with fire. Abrasiveness is one arm of a multi-armed live-able streets movement. The abrasive people make the meek look reasonable and give them better standing to negotiate. Without the abrasive people the movement would not be this far.

  • Streetsblog=Bike Coalition is an equation which misunderstands what it is. Or is that you expectation? I find zealots actually undermine effective advocacy. Especially when they start denouncing as a sell-out anything less than the extremes. Using a screen name leaves unclear if you have any real experience to back up your comment or are just another “my way or the freeway” type of the sort that pops up all over the net.

  • El Pedo

    mostly addressing the comment about dismissing abrasiveness and its effectiveness. Its effective. I would challenge you to find a successful movement anywhere that didnt have its abrasive arm. agree that streetsblog shouldnt have “shock jocks” or abrasive tone… but it should cut to the quick and be cold blooded. screen names mask the identity, but they dont mask that this is an opinion expressed by a real person.

  • “screen names mask the identity, but they dont mask that this is an opinion expressed by a real person”.

    But it gives us no context by which to judge your comments. Years ago I witnessed Ron Milan and associates representing the Bike Coalition strategize before an advisory meeting on Metro’s long range plan about the distance between what they thought was realistic and the more extreme desires held by the rank and file. I guess in the coming weeks we’ll find out where Damien falls in making his choice — I hazard a guess it will reside somewhere between the two of us. And I’ll conclude with advice I have been giving people for decades: style matters.

  • El Pedo

    what would it matter if I have history in the movement or not? the opinion is still stated… that is, that a successful movement needs multiple arms including and especially agitators that make life uncomfortable for the opposition in order to gain ground. if you have an argument against that, then please do dismantle my point. discrediting an opinion because of it’s source is one of the problems that we have in our media and society as a whole.

  • I’m sorry but “the movement” is a vague phrase. Is this blog engaged in advocacy? Journalism? A bit of both? And who decides how it is guided?

    “agitators that make life uncomfortable for the opposition” often gives bullies a self-justification for rude boorish behavior citing the alleged wider purpose when in fact they just enjoy pushing people around.

    “discrediting an opinion because of it’s source” I questioned whether what you assert has any real world basis. Movement’s have just as often flailed and failed because of extreme elements pushing hard positions and undermining the ability to compromise. Conservatives are grappling with that right now with the tea party and shadowy big money types dominating and driving them toward dwindling hopes for recapturing the White House in our lifetime.

    The co-founder of the non-profit Cinefamily just gave a revealing interview about the realities of any enterprise that tries to channel passion while dealing with the real world.

    Too often zealots have no endgame or grand strategy, just opinions and an utter conviction that they are right and the world is corrupt and should conform to what they have decided things should be like. There may be a grain of truth in your opinion but how actual advocacy works is far more complicated than how you outline it.

  • I think I’d value a professional journalist type the most, especially if they’ve got a wonky edge. A little attitude is fine, but I feel like Damien’s already got that covered and I think too much is a negative for a site like this–as someone else said, leave that to Curbed. Sahra’s got a lock on the advocacy type stuff, so I’d personally appreciate more digging into the news and the policy behind it.

  • Thanks Shane. I appreciate your feedback.

  • Christ…you know Glenn Greenwald is kind of my hero these days.

  • This was also a fascinating thread. Thanks to both of you.

  • Curbed is actually much more of a commentary website than Streetsblog is and in most cities it’s the other way around. At one point in 2010 when things were strained with NYC and it looked as though the SBLA team was going to be cut loose, we looked at doing a Curbed style website on SBLA issues. I’m happy we came back to the fold.
    My hope with a new writer is that I’ll be able to do more commentary while Sahra and new writer do more reporting. You don’t know how happy I’ll be the fourth Thursday in January to NOT be listening to a Metro Board hearing on my phone :)

  • Thank you Calwatch. This is a great comment and I’ll pass along your comments to everyone.
    It is a little funny though, out of the three of us Addison is the only one with actual journalism training…

  • Get a copy editor. Got it.

  • Sacramento is just the short-hand at the moment. They’ll really be covering issues in the Capitol/Caltrans/etc. Not Sacramento/Stockton/Natomas etc…

  • calwatch

    Josef is civil in person but I think online he has a harder edge, which doesn’t help since you can’t read body language online. He does have a bike shop which he is running so I doubt he will be able to write full time, which is what you want.

  • El Pedo

    Im talking about arms of a greater movement, you are judging the arms themselves. The tea party is an arm of the “conservative movement” – really the imperialist industrialist resource raider movement and they are doing great. Their power is rising across the globe. Theyve completely highjacked the agenda of one of the wealthiest nations on earth to raid resources across the globe. The tea party themselves is made up of boorish bullying types and zealots for sure and they would be dismissed if the media arm of the imperialist industrialist movement didnt cover them.

    Let me ask it like this, can you point me to a movement that suceeded without agitators?

  • “Let me ask it like this, can you point me to a movement that suceeded without agitators?”

    Arguably the most successful action that took on entrenched powers-that-be during the past two decades for transportation issues in our area was by the communities around LAX repeatedly thwarting the technocrats of the airport and their plans for expansion. The late Mike Gordon and his allies did this in part by building alliances all over far flung parts of the region attending many long boring city council meetings to enlist support. I am sure Richard Riordan et al were dumbfounded at this stunning organizational feat which their elitist way of doing things was helpless against. I don’t see that fitting your model of effectiveness.

  • El Pedo

    One monied political establishment going at another is a different kind of battle than when im talking about when i say a movement.. Kind of like calling the bev hills v metro battle a movement. But i will definitely read into it the tactics used for LAX there is always something to be learned.

    Homeowners always have a lot of power. When i think movement i think disenfranchised people that only have their voices and numbers.

  • First, I think you way underestimate what a David and Goliath struggle the folks fighting LAX expansion faced.

    How about Nelson Mandela and allies as an example of using persistence more than inflamatory tactics. Of course that is a simplification of a complicated situation. But you have yet to offer any substantial example of your strategy being effective and yet persist in demanding I do so then move the goal posts, second guess what I say, etc. Oh, well…

  • ubrayj02

    The bike plan and subsequent community hearings about its implementation have been very confrontational and have gotten results that otherwise wouldn’t have been gotten.

  • Thank you for a real world example. But down the road the confrontational tone will have to be dialed back to engage and implement. El Pedo spoke of arms of a movement but quickly came across as a zealot of the sort that often turn people off, undermine the ability to build alliances and reach compromises. To this day I am unhappy about the 2 person off-peak rule for the El Monte HOV lanes but at least during peak periods the 3 person rule preserves its value versus the politically motivated 2 person at all time debacle of some years ago.

  • ubrayj02

    I don’t know Dana, I can’t think of a crosswalk in my community that is there for any other reason than a kid getting killed and outraged people abusing their local council office into action. It’s not like the whole street got fixed but there are more $250,000 lighted crosswalks than before. So, angry mobs do work sometimes but don’t always come up with the best solutions.

    I am personally comfortable frothing things up since trying to play nice has never gotten me anywhere and, in fact, has lost me permit approvals, thousands of dollars, and months of work too.

    You HOV lane thing is the type of issue someone can “study” and implement through a bureaucratic meeting. If you want to reconfigure public streets to benefit safety over car dominance (not travel times since these are often still quite low on car-dominated street designs in LA) you are going to need to (figuratively speaking) kick over a few dustbins and light a couple of newstands on fire.

    Establishing a new “normal” for our streets require a lot of unpleasant force-of-will re-envisioning of a lot of broad cultural narratives. That is expensive and hard work that is done as much with sophisticated propaganda as it is with brute force public protest-style rage campaigns.

  • When I went to a friend’s Halloween party in Van Nuys the bus stop I got off at had candles, flowers and signs in memory of someone killed crossing the street. Don’t know if this is being used to get action for a crosswalk or traffic calming. This is an area that doesn’t even have crosswalks! I can appreciate why frothing is a reaction to this sort of horrible incident.

    But there is a danger of emotions running wild, credibility being damaged, the opposition able to declare you unreasonable, politicos shunning you. Would brute force tactics backfire if applied to the Westwood Blvd./Paul Koretz situation? Is that what you suggest the bike community engage in to win the day?

    SO.CA.TA recently had to take pains (via a notice posted on our website) to distance itself from an anonymous campaign against SANBAG and Omnitrans that mentioned us. It isn’t clear what grudges are motivating this jihad but it is an example of the dire behavior that occurs when zeal goes ballistic.

    Is the subtext of this dis-satisfaction with this website? Or even the Bike Coalition? Do you favor the sort of excessive rhetoric that the (seemingly defunct) blog The Bus Bench took? I can remember when I attended Metro Board meetings there was one hulking Bus Riders Union member who often seemed a bit more vocal than the rest in expressing his anger. The body language was sort of scary. I wondered if someday he might just let loose. Can you concede protesting etc. can also make folks want to distance themselves from what they see as extremists? Even in the environmental movement there has been tension as to tactics, etc.

  • ubrayj02

    Personally, I loved the Bus Bench – even when he/she was not firing on all cylinders. I look back on U.S. history (from what limited vantage point I have) and I see a constant, nasty, struggle between people to force others to do things one way or another. I mean, have you seen the handbills presidential candidates from the 18th and 19th century put out against one another? Whew!

    I don’t think that is behavior to aspire to but I think El Pedo has a point – movements aren’t about being right or wrong once they get moving. Movements are about getting people moving in one direction or another in large numbers. Whether it is for good or ill, we are emotional animals as much as we are rational, perhaps more so. At the end of the day if we end up with a better city and more happiness and no human rights were violated I think we’re on the right path. My feelings got hurt a lot of times trying to advocate for a certain set of policy changes before I learned to start hurting others’ emotional and psychological state through words and pictures online and in public hearings to push for change. Nobody in this town likes not being liked unless they can brush you aside as irrelevant. So being a jerk can help push a cause.

    I think the problem is that being a jerk, in and of itself, is not going to do much. You have to have a lot of other things going on at the same time.

  • And what Im saying is that the person writing on state gov issues should also meander to local stories in the area as well. Thats what I would want to see.


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