The Story Of LA Is Not Celebrities And Newsmakers
When catastrophic wildfires ravaged portions of Southern California late last year, I started my first week at LAist/KPCC.
Video footage showed flames 30 feet high, enveloping parts of Malibu. Houses went up in smoke. Hundreds evacuated. The city shut down.
While people rushed to escape the fire, I rushed in to report on it.
There's not an exact science to good journalism. But when I set out to work on a story, I always stop at the gas stations. The supermarket. The bus stop. Because I want to see the way everyone moves in the world, and what they do there.
So when the flames winded down in Malibu and all the news cameras went one way -- zooming in on the mostly affluent homeowners who had just lost everything -- I went another way.
At 6:30 a.m., eight days after the fires first started, I boarded the 534 bus that runs from downtown Santa Monica to Malibu to talk to the people who kept those mansions gleaming. Washed the laundry white. Mowed the grass.
This is the stop for @metrolosangeles bus 534 - it's the only bus line in Malibu. On a typical morning, it's packed with day laborers and housekeepers on the last leg of sometimes very long commutes to Malibu. Last Thursday, the bus was empty. @KPCC @LAist pic.twitter.com/Hka5dZ4qmk— Emily Elena Dugdale (she/her) (@eedugdale) November 20, 2018
They were day laborers, housekeepers and gardeners. Most of them commute to work on public transportation for hours every day.
But on that day, Malibu wasn't letting anyone inside. So the bus turned around.
It was on that bus where I met Andres Masariegos, a day laborer who had tried to get into the city to work, but was stopped by police.
"They're afraid that we're going to rob them," he said with a sad smile.
That's right. In case you missed that, the police thought Masariegos -- a man trying to get to his job -- was a looter.
But the main headlines I read that week didn't really cover that. They focused on the property owners. The celebrities. The wealthy.
Let me be clear: unexpectedly losing your home in a wildfire is heartbreaking, and is a story that deserves to be told.
But so is the story of the immigrants who power those households. And unless you're going down an internet rabbit hole, you're much more likely to hear about the homeowner than an immigrant.
I've worked for news outlets before where it was a struggle to get a story like that published. Some people don't see the point. One reader responded to my article saying, "not sure what this adds to an already horrible tragedy."
The real tragedy is how programmed we are to assume one thing is news and another thing isn't. That some think a homeowner and Masariegos can't be touched by the same devastation.
But both make up the Los Angeles we love, and both deserve our attention.
It's part of the reason why I became a journalist -- because I see a need for better reporting about more people no matter who you are -- whatever your background or status may be.
I see a need to recast our differences not as "other," but as part of the vital connective fabric that makes up this chaotic, perpetually changing place we call home.
I'm not here to tell you what to think or what to believe -- just to share the truths that I encounter.
Whether it's a five-hour meeting with frustrated longshore workers as port automation looms in San Pedro or sharing the outrage of friends and family demanding answers after another young black man is killed in an officer shooting, I want to be where you want me to be.
There's 88 cities alone in L.A. County with more than 200 languages spoken. That's a lot of places to see. A lot of meetings to attend. A lot of living rooms to visit. A lot of people to listen to.
And that's what I'm here for: to listen.
My hope is that if you see me on the street, you'll stop me to chat. I'll be the one with the headphones, big earrings and bigger hair.