Thursday, May 6, 2010

Sun's Political Team Shake-Up

Some major changes are happening at the Las Vegas Sun right when what's arguably the most important U.S. Senate race in Nevada history is heating up:

* Lisa Mascaro, the Washington correspondent for the paper, is moving over to the Los Angeles Times' DC bureau. That marks the second straight poaching of Vegas talent by the Times for its coverage of national politics; Kathleen Hennessey, formerly of the Associated Press here, was hired last year. What's sad here is that after years of outstanding work, Mascaro's swan song was a painful Sunday top-of-fold puff piece on all the goodies Harry Reid has brought to Nevada. Many inside the Sun newsroom have grumbled over the Greenspuns' blatantly political use of its news reporters in that instance, and it's really too bad that Mascaro's magnificent tenure ended with such a thing. Somehow Erin Neff and her phony journalism watchdog site didn't mind that, but woe be unto the Review-Journal if they had written, say, a feature about something good Sen. Ensign has done for the state.

* J. Patrick Coolican, the lead Vegas-based politics writer for the paper, heads to the Los Angeles Weekly shortly after the June 8 primary. There he will be blogging and reuniting with Drex Heikes, the former Sun city editor who led Alexandra Berzon to her Pulitzer Prize a year ago.

Now what? Well, there's Jon Ralston, of course, but as huge a shadow as he casts over coverage of politics, he still can't be everywhere sitting in on everything. And there's Michael Mishak, who I hear may end up heading to D.C. to take Mascaro's gig. Either way, losing that much of the braintrust -- and to competing publications -- will no doubt harm the quality of the Sun's coverage.

Meanwhile, closer to my heart, my dear Petcast co-host Emily Richmond, by far the most knowledgeable education reporter in this city, is absconding as well, at least temporarily. She departs to the University of Michigan in late August for a eight-month stint as a prestigious Knight-Wallace Fellow. That's amazing and I couldn't be more proud of her, but it also means that the Sun goes into the critical 2011 Legislative Session and possibly a new Clark County School District superintendent search without its ace.

That Knight-Wallace Fellow thing might sound familiar because that's where the Review-Journal's former political beat reporter Molly Ball has been for the past eight months with her husband, former R-J courts scribe David Kihara. Ball, of course, was a frequent fill-in guest-host on The Petcast, which must explain how both of these women landed the gig.

Ball tells me via e-mail they're not coming back to Vegas, but maybe she'd be interested in covering D.C. for the Sun? Trouble is, she already worked for the Sun and then defected to the Review-Journal, so who knows if that door continues to revolve or not. In lieu of that, send Mishak to D.C. if he'll go and then bring back Abigail Goldman or Timothy Pratt, the two best reporters fired in the Sun purge.

Bad idea: Getting an out-of-towner or rookie to stand in Ralston's shadow. I know, I did that once. In 1998, I was a 26-year-old sent by the R-J to cover the county government beat. Ralston was still an R-J columnist then. It was impossible to get traction on the beat in part because I was inexperienced and easy to manipulate but also because Ralston was an institution to be respected and feared by the political machinery of these parts. Inside sources could curry favor with me with minimal benefit as I'd in all likelihood be gone by the millennium (I was) whereas Ralston, they knew, would always be there (and still is). It's a thankless job any which way with this 800-pound gorilla in the midst, but it's important that the Sun's political writers in Vegas be seasoned and savvy enough to earn Ralston's respect as a worthy part of his team.

No word yet how we'll handle Emily's absence on our pet show. Anyone out there who loves parrots and bulldogs and who already has a podcast that's fading want to jump in for eight months?


Anonymous said...

While you're delving into the Sun staff, what happened at the Weekly? It seems to be a whole different paper with almost a completely new staff. Taking your column out of the equation, the coverage is noticeably different and seems aimed to a very young (dumb) audience now. They used to have a few good, relevant stories that counter-balanced the fluff and now those are gone. Maybe I'm getting old but something seems to have changed. The last decent alt publication is now a shell of its former self. I thought when Seven appeared on the scene, it was an opportunity for you to do a comparison of the various coverage of each alt weekly and its staff. Didn't some of the Seven people used to work for the Sun? How is that magazine surviving in this economy?

I'm going now to read your story about your uncle. The situation sounds so distressing, Best wishes and thanks for your unique perspective on Las Vegas.


I dunno that I can see a significant shift at the Weekly. My editors are all the same, plus a few folks have been dragged over from the Sun -- Kristen Peterson, Joe Brown, Abigail Goldman. I'm a fan of Rick Lax's work and otherwise I don't know that much has changed. In fact, the Weekly was notorious for years for putting hot ladies on the cover for not very good reasons and they don't do that anymore, so if anything it's gotten more serious.

I like Seven. In fact, I am planning a post analyzing it. Stay tuned.

Anonymous said...

I guess I miss those long timers Richard Abowitz, Stacy Willis, Damon Hodge, TR Witcher, etc. I hope they all landed on their feet after that last round of layoffs. I'll keep an eye out for your Seven post.

I read your story about your uncle; very well-done.

Scott said...

Anonymous: This week, in addition to Steve's quit serious story about his uncle, the Weekly has a remixed, heavily revised, updated version of Michael Mishak's Sun profile of Sue Lowden. Whatever you can say about those pieces, they aren't fluff intended for dumb readers. Nor is the consideration of To Kill a Mockingbird on its 50th anniversary, or the piece on arts district businesses miffed at the RTC, or even Ken Miller's fun report from a creationist/atheist debate. None of those pieces were borne of asking, "What does a young, dumb person want to read?" Is there light, breezy stuff in its pages? Yeah. Because that's all right, too.

I miss most of those people, too.

LV Weekly