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Covering taxes, covering rallies

March 10, 2009 |  5:22 pm

Carl E. Ossipoff of Newport Beach wrote, "8,000 people show up to a 'Tax Revolt' rally in Fullerton and the L.A. Times fails to cover it because it's not newsworthy? Maybe if you covered the things important to the folks in the Southland, you'd sell more papers."

So said a number of others who wrote over the weekend asking why there was no story on a rally promoted by KFI-AM talk-show hosts to protest recent proposed tax increases. The rally drew (depending on who's counting) 3,000 to 15,000 people.

The Times noted the event with a short post on the L.A. Now blog on March 8. The rally was covered by the Orange County Register and San Gabriel Valley Tribune (which noted: "The radio station reported as many as 15,000 people attended, but a Fullerton police sergeant estimated 3,000 to 8,000 people were there").

Other events with similar numbers don't always get stories; an earlier post on this journal gave the thinking on that last year.

California Editor David Lauter wrote back to scores who asked about the event. The gist of his response: No, The Times didn't cover the rally. But yes, The Times has covered the issues that led to anger behind the rally.

Here's the e-mail Lauter sent out late Monday to many dozens who wrote:

Thanks to each of you for writing. I appreciate hearing from all of you -- even the ones who called me a moron.

We all agree that the tax issue is extremely important. That's why, in the last few weeks alone, the Times has run more than 30 stories about the tax and budget proposals being pushed by the Legislature and the governor. That's also why we ran a tax chart so you could see how much the new taxes would cost you.

Here's just a few of the other stories that we've been first to report:

-- We were the first to tell you about the governor's decision to go back on his "no new taxes" pledge
-- We broke the details on the budget proposals being negotiated behind closed doors in Sacramento
-- The Times was the first to disclose that the Legislature and governor were planning to increase the Vehicle License Fee

-- We were the first to report that Proposition 1A included a provision that would make tax increases permanent.

On top of that, the other day, we broke the story of top Schwarzenegger administration officials who were getting their commuting expenses reimbursed by the taxpayers. Not to mention the top official who had to resign last week after one of our reporters figured out that she had taken money for speeches to drug companies that her agency was supposed to be regulating.

That's the sort of reporting that our readers expect and get -- daily -- from the Times. Those of you who don't read us missed those stories -- or perhaps you got them a day late when someone else picked them up and repeated them. I'm glad to say, though, that the number of people who do read them continues to grow. Our web traffic has more than doubled in the last year (latimes.com was the fastest growing major website in the country), and our overall readership between print and the web is higher than it has ever been. Those kinds of exclusive stories are a chief reason why, and that's what I want to keep our reporters focused on: digging up new facts that others can't get.

Between now and the May 19 election, we plan extensive coverage of both sides of the campaign over the ballot initiatives. We'll explain the issues, tell readers what both sides are saying, figure out where the money is coming from to pay for the campaigns on both sides and show people what's at stake. What we're not likely to do is cover a lot of individual rallies -- from either side. That's not a political thing. We don't cover a lot of government-worker rallies in favor of tax hikes, either. That doesn't mean we're not interested in the issue or that we have any disrespect for the people who attend the rallies (or the people who organize them).

Thanks for reading,

David Lauter
California Editor
Los Angeles Times

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