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Los Angeles Times covers the Watts riots

Los Angeles Times covers the Watts riots

May 2, 1966: Members of the Los Angeles Times’ Watts riots coverage team pose in newsroom after winning the 1966 Pulitzer Prize for local reporting. Times editor Bill Thomas is center left with hands clasped.

This post-riot article appeared in the September 1965 Among Ourselves employee newsletter:

Praise from all quarters was showered on Times reporters, photographers and deskmen for their coverage of last month’s riots.

More than 1,500 letters, by far the greatest number of them laudatory, were received in the first 10 days after the riot ended.

As always in such cases, there were a few who thought that the coverage was biased. But again as always, the opinions of these few were divided as to whose side The Times took.

In a letter to city editor Bill Thomas, Otis Chandler said, “I am deeply grateful for you and the entire staff for the magnificent coverage of the riot that you provided for our readers.

“I greatly appreciate the heroic efforts of our reporters and photographers who risked their lives to bring the tragic story to the pages of The Times.”

Thomas, in turn, told the staff in a letter that “The past week brought forth the finest over-all effort I have ever witnessed by this or any other staff.

“Under the most confused and trying conditions, the performance of all reporters and photographers ranged from more-than-adequate to magnificent.”

Happily, no Timesman was seriously injured, although every one of them in the riot area was exposed to extreme danger.

Reporter Phil Fradken, who with photographer Joe Kennedy was the first Timesman into the area, received a painfully bruised collarbone when struck by a rioter holding a brick in his fist.

Reporter Eric Malnic and photog Cal Montney, along with French newsman Ronald Faure, who had accompanied the Times pair to a trouble spot, were pinned down for several minutes by sniper fire. Montney and Faure reported that one bullet came within a foot or so of them.

Hours of work and no days off meant nothing to the cityside staff. Seventeen-hour days were commonplace. Several men voluntarily came in off their vacations, including Paul Weeks, who returned from Mazatlan, Mexico. Every off-duty man called in as the rioting reached its peak, and before the weekend was over, all had been used.

In Thomas’ words, “Art Berman (who wrote all of the lead stories) worked nine straight chaotic days in bringing order out of confusion” as he tied together the scattered and sometimes seemingly conflicting reports phoned in by men in the field. Bob Jackson, working the night side, also earned accolades from Thomas for his work in up-dating Berman’s stories for the late editions.

As the result of his work during the tragedy, the name of Bob Richardson has been added to the cityside roster.

Richardson, a young Classified employee and longtime resident of South Los Angeles, was able to move about more freely in the trouble areas than were other staffers and talk with the people involved.

His by-line stores were picked up by clients of the Times-Post News Service both in the United States and abroad, particularly in London.

The Circulation and Transportation departments had their problems. “Drops” normally made within the curfew area were moved to the fringes, where dealers made their pickups.

The only damage suffered by Transportation was one broken windshield. Fortunately, neither man in the cab was injured. (During the riot two men rode in trucks going near the trouble areas.)

Company guards put in considerable overtime as security was increased, but no incidents were reported.

Aug. 12, 1965: Los Angeles Times staff writer Charles Hillinger, right, talks to residents of Avalon Boulevard area of Watts. The residents told of anger and resentment toward police. This photo was published in the Aug. 13, 1965, Los Angeles Times. Credit: R. L. Oliver/Los Angeles Times

For more check out my Watts Riots photo gallery.

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1 Comment

  1. August 7, 2015, 5:06 pm

    If you look at the LA Times staff 50 years ago, it lacked diversity. I bet the LA Times was "Don Sterling" like in those days. Now, it's a liberal utopia.


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