The California College Media Association is pleased to honor Steve Lopez as a champion of First Amendment rights. Lopez, a nationally renowned columnist for the Los Angeles Times since 2001, has made an art of giving voice to those in L.A. who might otherwise be ignored. His fiery writing shows impatience with corruption and bureaucratic indifference. As a writer for Time, Inc., Lopez wrote for Sports Illustrated, Life and Entertainment Weekly. Prior to his work for Time, he wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer, the San Jose Mercury News, and the Oakland Tribune. His book “The Soloist,” based on reporting and writing about a homeless man on Skid Row, became a highly acclaimed film.
The Leland Yee Award is named in honor of a California legislator committed to press freedoms.
Remarks from Steve Lopez:
First of all, let me apologize for a scheduling conflict. As many of you know, the L.A. Times Festival of Books is this weekend at USC, and attendance by Times employees — as well as appearances on panels — is not necessarily optional. I’m sorry I can’t be with you.
I’d like to thank the media association for its support of college media in California. In 1975, I got my B.A. in journalsim from San Jose State University, and that institution last year made the questionable move of bestowing on me an honorary doctorate degree for reasons that are still not clear to me. But I was happy to accept, because it gave me a chance to make a graduation speech about the short-sighted budget cuts that are decimating the very institutions that for decades drove the state’s economic engine. I met recently in L.A. with some of the San Jose State brass, which is looking for creative ways to align with professional media organizations and build a foundation for survival in tough times.
I don’t have all the answers. What I know is that there’s a hunger for reliable reporting, which is more than a commodity. It’s a critical element in a democratic society, and we must all find ways to preserve free speech and hard-nosed investigative reporting that keeps the public informed and public officials accountable.
These days, we in media are accused of having biases and political agendas. I actually get it from both the right and the left, depending on the day and the subject matter. What I sometimes say in response is that I’ve never been in a newsroom — and the Times is the eighth in my 37-year career — in which the news staff was interested in anything other than telling the truth and going after the bastards, whoever they might be.
I’ve been privileged, as well, to serve in the company of journalists by the hundreds whose mission is to shine a light on social injustice and economic disparity, and while it may be a well-worn cliche, I was honored years ago to win the H.L. Mencken Award, because he’s the man who described the job like this — comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable.
Thank you, give ‘em hell, and as for you younger journalists in the audience, I wish you well, but please don’t take my job. I love it too much.