Alumni Portrait: Los Angeles Times Sacramento Bureau Chief John Myers

October 3, 2017

Even for a seasoned statehouse reporter like John Myers, the last year has been an unusual one in the California capital.

The election last November of Donald Trump “has shaken up the political order of Sacramento,” said the 1995 graduate of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

Myers, The Los Angeles Times’ Sacramento bureau chief, is widely considered one of the best reporters in California state politics. His more than two decades of television, radio, and print work have shaped his supervision of the bureau he joined two years ago.

After graduating from Duke University, Myers went to work for a congressman from his home state of North Carolina. He came to the J-School with little actual journalism experience, but quickly found a mentor in the late Susan Rasky, who “had the most profound impact” on the nascent reporter. Though his peers’ local coverage had been focused on Berkeley, Rasky sent Myers and his classmates north into Richmond, which Myers remembers Rasky calling a “gritty city with a lot of challenges.”

“Her argument was that Berkeley wasn’t reality, with all due respect to the Berkeleyites—and that Richmond was,” he recalled. “The experience of covering a city with serious, real-life challenges—economic and cultural and social—had a real impact on me as a young journalist.”

It was the 1994 midterm elections, when the Republican Party took back the U.S. House of Representatives, that solidified Myers’ favorite topic. His coverage of local races “was kind of the first time I really understood the bug of political journalism.”

Myers took his time finding his footing in an industry that was just beginning to step into the digital age. With some help from Rasky and “incredible luck,” Myers never found himself out of work, and wound up, in 2003, covering the state government for San Francisco’s KQED. Three years later, he founded California’s first politics podcast, which he still hosts.

“I think in politics you find the stories of everything that people care about,” Myers said. “It’s not all horse race, and it’s not all strategy and polling and focus groups and campaigns. It is serious, substantive discussions of education and crime and the environment and transportation and housing and more.”

Myers described his bureau chief role as “player-coach.” He still churns out stories, but also helps shape his bureau’s coverage, hands out assignments, does initial editing, and writes a Sunday column.

With continuous turnover in the statehouse press corps, Myers gives credit to his length of service for his rise to the top of the Sacramento reporter ranks; he’s been covering statewide politics full-time since 2001.

“The longevity means you have seen most of the circus come through town before,” he explained. “You understand why things are happening the way they are because you saw an earlier iteration play itself out, and you know what to look for.”

Myers says the key to covering Sacramento well is having a genuine interest in policy, politics, and government; and when it comes to cultivating sources, he says, it’s quality over quantity. Government institutions at the state and federal levels are home to plenty of people claiming great insider knowledge, but few who “actually know what they’re talking about,” he says.

This year has been dominated by what he called “the primal scream of California Democrats.” Myers figures the last time his beat was as unconventional as it is now was when California voters replaced Gov. Gray Davis with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“This, I think, is more unusual a year because Democrats—who control, really, all the branches of government in California—view Trump as an existential threat and have never stopped talking about him and have never stopped thinking about what he’s doing.”

By Sam Goldman (’19)

 

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