Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Who's Watching Over Oakland?

By Robert Gammon
Wed, Jan 17, 2007 at 3:26 PM

It's no secret Oakland has been vexed with a dramatic spike in violent crime in the past year. In fact, it's safe to say that crime is the city's No. 1 problem, and arguably its most important news story. Yet all of this seems to be lost on management at the Oakland Tribune. For some time now, the Trib, because of budget cuts, has left unfilled two of its essential criminal justice positions -- night cops reporter and courts reporter. In other words, the city's paper of record has no reporters covering crimes that occur in the busy evening hours. Nor does it have anyone to keep tabs on the trials of accused criminals or to provide much meaningful analysis on the causes and effects of this violence. "It's totally ridiculous," said one Trib staffer. "It's absurd."

It's unusual for a metro daily like the Trib to go without a courts reporter, which is often considered a prime news beat. Yet the paper has lacked one ever since reporter Jason Dearen left for the Associated Press last month. The paper has gone even longer without a night cops reporter. In fact, the paper now has only one full-time crime reporter, Harry Harris, who covers day cops.

Granted, Harris is the most experienced reporter in the East Bay, has incredible sources, and almost never gets scooped. And granted, newspapers around the country have fallen on hard economic times and are cutting back on staff. But Harris can't be expected to be everywhere at once, especially in a city that experienced 148 homicides last year.

Tribune editor Pete Wevurski, who took over the paper on an interim basis Tuesday following the transfer of longtime editor Mario Dianda, said he wasn't sure how long the paper would go without two of its three crime reporters. For now, he said, the paper plans to "juggle staff" to cover crime. "We're trying to see our way through a short staffing period," he said. "I can't say that's going to be a permanent situation."

Full Disclosure: The author is a former Tribune reporter.

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