He’s blown the lid off of filthy restaurants, malfunctioning parking meters and payola-grubbers at the Department of Motor Vehicles. San Fernando Valley native Joel Grover, 39, came to KCBS as its chief investigative reporter three years ago and has since seen his team win an Edward R. Murrow award for best news series. Here he dishes on sweeps, “60 Minutes” and vengeful ex-spouses.
Q: November is a day away. How old were you when you first heard the word “sweeps”?
A: Ooph. It was way into my career. I hate sweeps, I hate the concept of ratings, but it’s an evil we have to live with. I do get very defensive. People will say, “You did that investigation just for sweeps.” Would you rather me be doing a feature on the latest bikini fashions? Pantyhose nightmares?
Q: How do you feel about knowing a business’s practice might be making someone sick, but sitting on the story until sweeps?
A: If we find out that something is endangering people or health, we’ll do something about it. With the restaurant investigation, we notified the health department of what was going on, though we didn’t necessarily say we were with CBS.
Q: Do you ever eat out?
A: I eat out once, twice, three times a day. I’m on the run a lot. I used to love to eat in divey restaurants with good food--I don’t anymore. The first thing I do is go into the bathroom, peek in the kitchen. I have walked into restaurants with friends and left.
Q: You must be recognized.
A: You know how some restaurants put up 8-by-10 glossies? Some have asked me, but I’m not comfortable. As an investigative reporter, I don’t want anyone to give customers the feeling that I’ve endorsed it.
Q: Does the medium you work in help dictate your investigations? Uncovering major corruption sometimes involves documents that aren’t as telegenic as a chef deboning a chicken with his teeth.
A: You’re right, it’s a consideration, but I would absolutely do a great investigative story if there were no pictures. Certain investigative stories lend themselves better to TV. Sometimes the public has to see it and hear it to believe it.
Q: Not all the viewers’ tips must pan out.
A: People call us and lead us on that there’s this juicy story, “I know of a horrible, heinous, dangerous criminal,” and, in fact, they just want us to go after their ex-husband or ex-wife.
Q: What’s the first “60 Minutes” episode you recall?
A: A classic on auto repair fraud. I remember watching “60 Minutes” when I was watching cartoons. So many of the problems in society never go away. They might get better for a while but they’re always there.
Q: You’ve had a lot of doors slammed in your face by now. . . .
A: And I’ve pushed a lot of doors open.
Q: Is the thrill gone?
A: Being an investigative reporter, the challenges are infinite. A friend of mine asked me, “Don’t you think you’re going to run out of ideas to investigate?” In this city, no. L.A. was born of the wild, wild West, and it just has never changed. Sometimes I feel like this city is out of control, that criminals have free rein.
Q: What are you going to blow the lid off of come February?
A: I’d have to cut your tongue off if I told you. I work like the CIA. I never tell anybody until we promo it.