This isn’t easy, but compiling a list isn’t as impossible as it would have been 10 years ago.
Back in the 20th century, the greater Los Angeles market had seven, eight, nine full-service sports sections, each with its own panoply of beat writers. To have some sense of the best 10 individuals among what would have been hundreds of journos at all those outlets … would have required hours, maybe days of web work. Nobody read ALL those people.
But now that we’re down to the L.A. Times, Orange County Register, Riverside Press Enterprise, the collective Singleton/MediaNews staff and the Ventura County Star, papers (and journalists) I’m at least conversant with … it’s not as daunting a concept to come up with a list. Obviously, one person’s list.
You must be a writer this minute; former writers now mostly pulling desk shifts (and there are more than a few of you) are out.
Your work must appear in the daily newspaper. Some people are blogging like maniacs, and that diversion of energy can impact the quality of what gets in print. Sorry. I admire the overall effort, but I’m not going to wade through all the blogs.
You can get on this list in one of two ways:
1. You are a pleasure to read. I see your name, I go right to the text.
2. You dominate your beat/subject field. To be up to speed on your beat, I must read you.
The list will skew towards columnists and national beat writers because they have more freedom to write.
Also, personal friends of mine (Steve Dilbeck, Gregg Patton) are not eligible.
OK, the list, in a Letterman-style 10-to-1 countdown:
10. Mike Bresnahan, L.A. Times: A guy who has grown on the job while covering the Lakers. Not only do I sense he rarely gets beaten on a story, he has become an interesting writer.
9. Frank Burlison, Long Beach Press Telegram: Frank never has been a stylist, but he is the authority on amateur basketball in the market. Preps and colleges. He knows all the movers and shakers and the deal-makers, and they call him as often as he calls them.
8. Dan Weber, Riverside Press Enterprise: One of the last of a dying breed — the well-rounded beat guy who not only can report daily doings but brings strong analytical powers to a game and can rise to lyrical heights when it’s over. Currently the USC beat guy for the PE.
7. Scott Wolf, L.A. Daily News: Doesn’t write as well as Weber, but this is the guy out front on the hour-to-hour minutiae of the USC beat which, along with the Lakers and Dodgers, is one of the Big Three L.A. beats. Pete Carroll can’t sneeze without Wolf saying “gesundheit.”
6. Mark Whicker, Orange County Register: Some of his columns have a recycled concept feel to them, but his wide-ranging sports knowledge and ability to pop a pleasing phrase without warning get him in here.
5. Chris Dufresne, Los Angeles Times: The national college football guy for LAT. A little too fond of punny business, and if he writes “hey, the BCS is stupid” one more time I may roll a grenade into Times Mirror Square … but I always read him. From start to finish.
4. Bill Dwyre, Los Angeles Times: What was it the late radio man Jim Healy called him? Editor Bill? Turns out the bureaucrat who ran the section for two decades (plus) is a very nice columnist — and the most pleasant surprise (in years) in the market. His straight-forward prose, old-school topic preference (boxing, horses, etc.), timeliness and fairness make him an easy yet compelling read.
3. Tom Hoffarth, L.A. Daily News: Combines writing style and dominance of his (nominal) topic/beat (L.A. electronic media) like no one in the market. He has a flare for the offbeat (OK, weird) rarely seen in these deadly serious times, and his petty feuds with other media figures sometimes can be amusing. Perhaps the most under-appreciated writer in the market.
2. T.J. Simers, L.A. Times: A journalistic bully whose hectoring can turn a clubhouse radioactive for everyone in it (including other journalists). But his status as the only genuinely feared writer in the market makes him a massively significant figure. He can be a guilty pleasure when his relentless name-calling and sledge-hammer sarcasm is aimed at an owner or athlete the reader doesn’t like. Even when he’s bludgeoning a good guy, he remains the prime agenda-setter in the market and, therefore, a must-read.
1. Mark Heisler, L.A. Times: OK, an idiosyncratic choice. But I never miss anything the long-time national NBA writer does, and that’s the definition of excellence. Yes, he tends to return to four or five well-worn subject tracks (the NBA was rocky when Mike retired; gotcha), but his broad knowledge of the topic, his ability to identify sweeping trends and his amused detachment make him my favorite read in L.A.-area newspapering.
Add: The people on the list, above, aren’t exactly kids. But there is some young (under 30) talent out there. Some of those to watch include: Diamond Leung, Press Enterprise (Dodgers); Ramona Shelburne, L.A. Daily News (general assignment); Matt Caulkins, Press Enterprise (motor racing, etc.), Dylan Hernandez, L.A. Times (Dodgers).