Friday, October 26, 2007

Read this LA Magazine article: "What's a dog worth?" by Jesse Katz, the guest to the Thursday night J.310 class on Nov. 1

Here's an excerpt to intrigue you:

His name is Roy.

At least for now. Whatever it was before, whatever it might be again, he will live or die as he is known here. The staff of the South Los Angeles shelter came up with it, turned him into Roy, to help improve his odds—of winning someone’s heart, of leaving on a leash. Without a name, he would be just A774623, which has been written on surgical tape and fastened to a chain around his neck. He looks like a Roy. He is old and skinny, the color of faded cinnamon. He has a wrinkled brow and flabby jowls, a face that is weary but earnest. Whenever a stranger enters the kennel, Roy springs to his hind legs, pawing at the metal grate that covers his cinder-block cell. He wriggles his snout between the gaps, sniffing and snorting, his tongue a gush of sloppy kisses. He turns himself sideways, scratching his bony hide against the bars, inviting human fingers to join in. His tail wags. His eyes beg.

But nobody comes for Roy. Not an owner, if he ever had one. Not the people who found him on the street and called the city for help. Not even the rescue groups that scour the shelters for overlooked mutts, fostering them until they can be placed in a permanent home. Roy is not anyone’s idea of a pet. He is not cute. He is not fluffy. He is not tiny. He is not exotic. He is an eight-year-old pit bull, a mastiff-and-Staffordshire mix, whose singular misfortune is to belong to a breed for which supply exceeds demand. Roy is surplus. In our system of animal control—a system few of us have seen, a system most of us will never encounter—dogs like Roy are doomed from the start.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Getting the paper on john doe ... and other great online sources for investigations large and small

The Web can be a great place for a journalist. But it can also be a huge time suck as you search for relevant material turns into a three-hour hyperlink fest on (Don't do it! Just don't click through.)

Below are some research and journalism sites to get you started.

First thing you need is the California Public Records Act. Go to the site now. Print yourself a copy. is a great site to start if you want figure out where to go for information for your story. The beat source guide is particularly helpful. And if you're backgrounding someone for a profile, try the Getting the Paper page. is the online presence for the Poynter Institute, which is concerned with journalism excellence. They have many, many tips on writing better. But the most popular part is its industry gossip column, Romenesko. For L.A. media gossip, however. is the place to go.

If you're covering an upcoming election, Smart Voter is the place to go. The site hosted by the League of Women Voters can search for any ballot (presuming the ballot for that election if finalized) and includes its text, the arguments on both sides and also includes links about the measures or candidates. It's very helpful.

The General Accounting Office is a goldmine of interesting reports. This is the investigative arm of Congress and probably have audited something related to something you're writing about. It's also a great source for ideas. Check it out.

Tell me your favorite information sites by commenting to this post.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Stories about government and social issues

Hello students of Mariel Garza's J. 310 courses. In this post you will find excerpts of, and links to, stories about government and social issues. Note that stories that are government related aren't neccesarily about laws or council meetings. In fact, considering how many ways government (local, state and federal) regulates or otherwise affects our lives, there's an enormous variety to chose from.

Government-related stories
Take a look at this fine issue story in today's Daily News:

GLENDALE - For sale: 123-year-old, padlocked cemetery with overgrown weeds and the remains of 40,000.

Fire Department says it's a hazard, city says it's a public nuisance. Fixer-upper. Owner must sell. $1 million, or best offer.

Any takers?

State officials are forcing the sale of embattled Grand View Memorial Park after finding that late owner Marsha Howard resold grave plots, improperly disposed of the cremated remains of thousands of people and left the once-sparkling mausoleum and its surrounding property in shambles.

Here's a government-related article from LA Times writer David Zahniser about the Mayor's Million Trees initiative, which looked at its sucess (or lack of) one year after it began.

Monica Barra went to South Los Angeles last month to attend a jazz festival. She went home with a free tree, a one-gallon African sumac that she lugged around on a Sunday afternoon past the shops and restaurants of Leimert Park.

The college senior took the tree on an impulse, though each tree recipient was required to fill out a "pledge to plant," a form smaller than an index card and a signature feature of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's plan to plant 1 million trees across Los Angeles.

Six weeks later, Barra's leafy friend has yet to make contact with the soil. Because Barra has no land of her own, the tree sits in her apartment in Redlands, roughly 60 miles from Los Angeles.

"I just really like having trees and plants where I'm living," said Barra, who majors in literature, historiography and urban studies. "And it was free."

Villaraigosa has trumpeted his Million Trees LA initiative as a cornerstone of his environmental agenda, bringing it up before audiences as far away as London and Hong Kong. Each time, the mayor's refrain has been the same: "We're planting 1 million trees," a phrase that brings to mind a populace working harmoniously to transform Los Angeles into a verdant forest.

The reality, however, is that, in many cases, organizers are not so much planting trees as giving them away, offering them up by the hundreds at fairs, festivals and farmers markets, many of them in the summer in a year of intense drought.

So far, no one has checked to see whether those trees have been planted, are still alive or even are in Los Angeles, one of several cities pursuing massive tree initiatives.

Social issue stories

Social issues are things that affect society, right? So the possibilities are endless. There's homelessness, poverty, addiction, health care, mental health, workplace violence, fair housing...

Below are two examples of stories about social issues:

One is rom the Daily News' series last year on the pornography industry in the San Fernando Valley about the family and porn. The other one a Column One in today's L.A. Times about how Middle-Eastern actors finding only terrorist roles available in a Post-9/11 Hollywood.

The reason these two are packaged together is that a lot of times, social issues are government- related, and vice versa. For an example read this example in today's L.A. Times.

California is rapidly losing families willing to care for foster children because its payment rate lags far behind the cost of living and is lower than the price to kennel a dog, according to a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday that mirrored the findings of a new national study.

The lawsuit was launched by a coalition of advocates for foster families in U.S. District Court in San Francisco on the same day that the analysis by the University of Maryland showed that California has fallen far behind in caring for its most vulnerable wards.