Bob Baker dies at 67; prolific Times journalist fulfilled music dream

When Bob Baker was a teenager in the San Fernando Valley of the 1960s, his mom suggested he try his hand at writing for his high school newspaper.

Her suggestion laid the foundation for a distinguished career as a reporter and editor at the Los Angeles Times and a post-retirement stint as a writing coach for newspapers across the country.

Baker died Friday in a Santa Monica care facility after a long battle with two debilitating illnesses, Parkinson's and Lewy body disease, his wife said. He was 67.

He was a prolific journalist whose 1981 "Newsthinking: Making Your Facts Fall Into Place" was reissued several years later as a textbook for college journalism students.

Baker also had a lifelong interest in music. He helped write the 2003 autobiography of Magnificent Montague, an African American deejay whose radio show Baker had listened to as a teen and whom he befriended years later after meeting him while on assignment.

Baker played bass guitar and sang with a group of fellow journalists who had named their band after a hamburger joint across the street from The Times: Blue Cube.

The band got its start when one of the newspaper's publishers, who happened to be a rock aficionado, built a rehearsal studio in The Times' basement.

"Bob was one of the first people through the door the day it opened," recalled Times staffer Tom Kuby, a former member of the band. "We practiced a lot and argued a lot. Bob was incredibly opinionated about music and I loved that."

Robert Olin Baker was born on New Year's Eve in 1947 to Earl and Lillian Baker, a fabric salesman and a homemaker who later worked for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

While still in high school, Baker covered prep sports for the Van Nuys News and Valley Green Sheet. He graduated from Cal State Northridge in 1970 with a degree in journalism and covered city government for the Thousand Oaks News-Chronicle.

Baker joined The Times in 1979, reporting for its suburban sections and then tackling more ambitious topics such as labor and religion. By the time he left, he had amassed 1,578 bylines and had served as city editor for The Times' Valley section and as the paper's metro editor. He was also the in-house writing coach.

He was part of a team of reporters and editors that won Pulitzer Prizes in 1993 and 1995 for spot news reporting.

After retiring from The Times, Baker spent part of his savings to fulfill a long-held dream: to record an album of his original songs in Nashville, hiring some of the best session musicians in town.

He wrote about the experience in a 2007 story in the New York Times, under the headline "When Walter Mitty Met Conway Twitty."

"At 58," Baker wrote, "I shifted some retirement money to the life's-too-short side of the ledger and headed from Los Angeles to Nashville.... I would make a demo that sounded professional, right down to my singing."

Baker is survived by his wife of 45 years, Marjorie Mauriello Baker, and their daughter, Amanda Mauriello Baker, an attorney in New York City.

jean.merl@latimes.com

Twitter: @jeanmerl

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