David Meeks - Assistant Political Editor, Los Angeles Times, Online
By Susan Lanier
What separates the great journalists, reporters and editors from the merely competent ones? David Meeks, the new assistant political editor at the Los Angeles Times online says it requires three tasks: “Know a good story when you see one, know how to report it when you see it, and know how to write it.”
Sounds simple, right? Well, maybe not if you are smack dab in the middle of a natural disaster, most of your newspaper staff has been evacuated to a nearby town, and you are in charge of organizing the team of volunteers who stayed behind.
As city editor of The Times-Picayune in New Orleans when Katrina hit in 2005, Meeks did just that, and said it was an experience that would prepare him for just about anything.
“I had lost my house, we could only operate on the dry streets and we had almost nothing to work with for several days,” he said. “We had to live by our wits and our collective resourcefulness to even get the stories we reported out to the world, but we were able to do it.”
Meeks, and 12 other reporters managed to find food, a canoe, and a kayak, which allowed them to get the stories out that later led The Times-Picayune to two Pulitzer Prizes.
“That taught me that there is always a way if you are resourceful enough, and there always are people willing to try. After that experience, no obstacle deters me,” he said.
Meek’s determination later landed him a gig with the Associated Press, and then as the assistant bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times’ Washington, DC, bureau where he edited White House and Congress coverage. Now as the assistant politics editor for the Los Angeles Times’ website, Meeks is charged with editing the Politics Now blog.
“I like that this is an opportunity to build a targeted blog on a topic people have a lot of passion about – politics,” Meeks said.
Politics Now is only a year old and focuses primarily on analysis, rather than political opinion. Meeks plans to continue developing the blog as a go-to source for both casual readers and politics junkies.
“Our short-term plans are to keep building as the 2012 campaign unfolds, continue to be a destination site for analysis of the Republican primaries, the Obama campaign, the fight for control of Congress, and U.S. policy on a host of issues, from healthcare to the economy to the growing concern about Iran’s nuclear intentions,” he said.
There are major differences between editing for the blog, and his former post at the Washington, DC bureau due to the transition between working for online versus the print edition.
“You have to move much quicker in the online world, while print journalism, if you’re doing it for the next day and doing it properly, is designed to go deeper on issues, analyze them and explain to readers where it is headed and how it all fits into the big picture. You can do those things online too, and some analysis holds up over time. But in general, online stories have a much shorter shelf life,” Meeks said.
Of course there are perks for working in such a tech-savvy climate. Journalists can develop an avid and loyal following.
“The excitement in being a journalist these days is this: You can be your own brand. You have the ability to communicate with the world pretty much on your own, and we see reporters being hired these days – particularly in sports and politics – because they have a following, an audience that will move with them. That’s of huge value.”
He added, “Of course, one has to be good to build that following, but the opportunity is there.”
Meeks suggests keeping pitches short and succinct. “You want to make your pitch but not take all day doing it,” he said.
He also desires access to high profile figures the Los Angeles Times hasn’t gotten access to in the past.
He added that PR professionals should keep in mind that he covers politics. “It’s amazing how many broad pitches I get that have little or nothing to do with my area,” he said.
Meeks prefers to be pitched by email and added, “Calls are fine if I know you, but we are all pressed for time on the phone.”
Follow David Meeks on Twitter @dmeeksDC