Allison B. Cohen

Allison B. Cohen

When I was a young reporter, the first thing I did when I got to work when I was an intern for the Los Angeles Times was to make “beat calls.” At the time, I thought doing so was miserable. Today, I only wish. . .

Back then, young reporters were given a list of police division phone numbers that reached a live, human person who was known as the PIO (Public Information Officer) or the Watch Commander.

The conversation would go something like this: “Hey, It’s Allison with the L.A. Times. Got anything to report?”

The watch commander would then reply one of two ways: “Nah, not much going on,” or “Yeah, there was this really interesting thing that happened last night. . .”

Most of these interactions did not produce a fruitful story. But sometimes they did. I would call at least 20 or more different police stations, first in the morning, and then again late in the afternoon. Plus, I became friendly and knowledgeable with each and every station.

Today, reporters have to call a centralized media line for the Los Angeles Police Dept. to ask about specific crime issues. The days of “beat calls” are over.

I wouldn’t mind, as a publisher and reporter, if the centralized media line were helpful. But often the officer at the end of that call has no idea what crime or issue I am talking about. I have actually been asked, “Do you have an arrest number?”

Sadly, most LAPD media relations officers now ask you to send an email with your request and then promise someone will try to get back to you in a couple of days. The same process is true, these days, for the Los Angeles Fire Department.

That’s not how news works, even with monthly news publications. Things happen, immediacy is important and in some cases, it’s critical to get important information out to the public.

Twitter could be a solution, I know. But it’s not. When you see a tweet that interests you as a reporter, you get the same lack of transparency when you call to follow up on it.

These practices by the LAPD are not serving the public well. Government and police agencies must work hand-in-hand with the news media, large and small, to provide information to the public, not forestall it or create unnecessary roadblocks or delays for transparency.

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