Guardian journalist Duncan Campbell, who was the paper’s LA correspondent for a number of years, had an interesting column yesterday about Scotland Yard’s attempt to permanently restrict unsupervised interactions between police and the media in the UK, in the wake of the News of the World scandal.
Interestingly, he holds up the relationship between LAPD and the LA media as a model of democratic virtue.
Working for the Guardian for five years in Los Angeles, I was amazed at how easy it was to get information from law enforcement officials who regarded the media not as a hostile force but as part of a democratic process… [T]here are risks in such frankness, but they are countered by the benefits both for the public and the police.
Journalists covering crime should be talking to police, criminals, lawyers and victims if they are to inform their readers and listeners, just as sports reporters need to talk informally to footballers and political correspondents to MPs. Whistle-blowing officers would never expose corruption in the presence of a press office minder. Guardian investigations in the past have often been helped by principled officers wanting to expose wrongdoing.
Having worked a few crimes stories in our day, we can honestly say good reporting would be impossible if all queries had to be fielded through the LAPD press office. There is no way Angelenos would have found out about the Grim Sleeper without Christine Pelisek’s relationship with LAPD detectives. Who knows if Lonnie Franklin would have ever been caught if Pelisek’s stories hadn’t given the Grim Sleeper murders national attention?
That said, democracy can get ugly sometimes. Really ugly.