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The LAist Interview: Rick Orlov

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Los Angeles Daily News reporter and columnist Rick Orlov is a familiar face at City Hall. He should be—he’s covered the City Hall beat since 1988 and has been writing about politics for over 30 years.

Orlov’s columns and articles are required reading for local politicos. He's a straight-shooter, though he says he gets a lot of feedback from readers suggesting he is biased one way or the other. “If you’re covering the circus,” he says, “there’s an assumption you’re either with the elephants or the clowns.”

1. Age and Occupation:

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56. Reporter/columnist.

2. How long have you lived in Los Angeles, and what neighborhood do you live in?

I have lived in Los Angeles since 1960 (when my family moved here from Indianapolis, Indiana). I live on the Westside after growing up in the San Fernando Valley (Portola Jr. High School, Birmingham High School, Valley College and CSUN).

3. How and why did you become a journalist?

I had taken some journalism classes in college where I was a political science major. But I never really thought about news as a career until graduation came and I decided that I didn't want to go on to law school.

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My first job was with the Copley Newspapers, which had six papers around Los Angeles County at the time (1970). I worked at three of them—Monrovia News-Post, San Pedro News-Pilot, and Alhambra Post-Advocate and then went to the Copley News Service Los Angeles Bureau in 1972 to cover the Board of Supervisors.

In 1977, I was approached and went to work for the then-Valley News and Green Sheet, which has recently been purchased by the Chicago Tribune and it was in the process from going from a four-day a week throwaway to a fully paid daily.

Since then, the newspaper had undergone a series of changes with new owners and editors, so it's been like going to work for a different paper without having to leave.

4. As a City Hall reporter, why do you think there isn’t much television coverage of local politics in Los Angeles? Does that have an impact on how the city is run?

It's hard to get television interested in any continuing governmental coverage these days, but I don't think it is entirely their fault.

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For one thing, this City Council has not been particularly aggressive in pursuing the big political policy issues of past councils. Also, television is best in covering issues involving personal conflicts or big ticket items. So they are covering events when there is political controversy or major issues such as the LAX modernization plan.

It does have an impact on voter participation. A lot of people, understandably, are unable to separate city government from county government responsibilities. Also, the lack of television coverage allows our local politicians to get off the hook for responsibility and there is a lack of familiarity with what they do. As a result, they get blamed for things that are not their responsibility as well as not having to take responsibility for those things that are. It ends up with a disconnect that you see where two City Council members are unopposed in the March 8 election and others have only token opposition.

5. Since the Daily News is located in Woodland Hills, many view it as a “Valley paper”. What’s your response?

At its heart, the Daily News is a Valley paper. It is where its history and strength is.

But, in saying that, I think the newspaper represents a core value of middle class sensibilities that are present throughout the city of Los Angeles. It covers issues relating to how government serves them and how people can affect and influence government.

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When he was first elected to the City Council, Mark Ridley-Thomas talked of how he could replicate the actions of San Fernando Valley homeowner groups in becoming active and influencing city policy. The result was the 8th District Empowerment Congress, which continues to have a strong voice. I also think the Valley groups were the model for neighborhood councils that are now written in the city charter.