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Times Senior Writer Doug Smith Honored with Distinguished Journalist Award

Doug Smith
(Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

The Society of Professional Journalists Greater Los Angeles chapter recently honored Los Angeles Times Senior Writer Doug Smith with the Distinguished Journalist award. The honor, which recognizes journalists who have produced an impressive body of work, achieved a record of accomplishments and demonstrated a deep commitment to their craft, was presented at a ceremony on Oct 19.

In introducing the veteran journalist, Times Deputy Managing Editor for News Shelby Grad traced Smith’s 52-year career with the newspaper back to his early years on beats in Glendale and L.A. suburbs penning the long-running “Around the Foothills” column, which kept tabs on the Verdugo Swing Band, automated sprinklers on 134 Freeway and the latest John Birch Society meeting, among other topics.

Over the years, Smith has covered a wide range of beats and topics, such as local and state government, criminal justice, politics and education. In 1997, he was the lead writer on the breaking news team that won a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the botched bank robbery and subsequent police shootout in North Hollywood.

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He served as the database editor from 2004 through 2015 and, while in that role, contributed to reporting that explored the effectiveness of public schools and individual teachers, uncovered construction abuse in the community college system, investigated the rising toll of prescription drug overdoses and helped expose earthquake risks and change safety laws.

Smith also made five trips to The Times Baghdad bureau between 2005 and 2008, “making friends for life with many of the Iraqis who worked there,” Grad said, noting that he helped many start new lives in the U.S. and Europe. “More than a decade later, Doug is still at the center of many of their lives.”

More recently, Smith’s work has focused on where public policy meets real life in Los Angeles, combining his expertise in data analysis with gumshoe reporting. This month, he wrote a first-person essay on his experiences traveling the High Sierra by mule.

Grad recalled Smith’s relentlessness at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, when many reporters were adjusting to virtual newsrooms. “But Doug Smith is not exactly a home office and Zoom call kind of reporter,” he said. “He wanted to be out on the street, writing about how COVID was threatening L.A. homeless communities.” After The Times provided Smith with PPE gear and strict instructions to stay at least six feet from anyone, Grad said Smith got on his motorcycle “and glided down from Pasadena into skid row,” filing several impactful stories.

“Newsrooms are full of people who like to consider themselves ‘legendary,’ but Doug actually fits the bill,” Grad said, adding that “it’s hard to overstate the role that Doug plays in the newsroom.

“He is kind and generous with his time. He is open to new ideas and new people. But more than anything, Doug is the kind of journalist we all aspire to be if we didn’t have so many hangups. The one satisfied with the work and not the glory or ego.”

In accepting his award, Smith called his career “an apprenticeship for life” and noted that he’d begun his stint at The Times with “three-quarters of a degree in English literature” and a big ambition to be a writer. “The hardest lesson I learned was that to write the story you had to report it first,” he said. “I’ve been learning how to report ever since. And everything I know I learned from you, my colleagues.”

Read more about the SPJLA Distinguished Journalist Awards at spjla.org.


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