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On the Media: The media heroes of 2010

The news may not have been bigger in 2010. But it came at us every which way — on cellphones and iPads, laptops and BlackBerrys, even by conventional television and newsprint. The world rushed in: a devastating earthquake in Haiti, violent drug violence in Mexico, a joyous rescue of Chilean miners. And, what’s this to close the year: the coach of the New York Jets with a fetish for … feet?

From the tragic and transcendent to the trivial, a few characters rose above the tumult as media heroes of 2010. They aren’t the only ones who distinguished themselves, but they made this list for abiding determination, courage or inspiration that, in some cases, got too little recognition.

Joao Silva was embedded with soldiers in Kandahar Province in October, on assignment for The New York Times, when he stepped on a mine. The explosion tore into Silva and cost him much of both his legs. He’s still recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

It’s not Silva’s bad fortune that deserves our admiration but the years he has spent in the world’s war and misery zones, taking pictures so the rest of us won’t forget or neglect. The Portuguese native covered the end of the apartheid era in South Africa, ethnic violence in Kenya and the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Silva kept shooting photos after October’s explosion and comrades say they expect him back on the job after he has adapted to his injuries. Following the devastating incident, the New York Times did the right thing — turning Silva from a contract employee into a full-fledged staffer.

Anchorman Shepard Smith stood up, as he has several times in years past, as the voice of loyal moderation at Fox News, the voice of constant opposition.

Some of the noisiest provocateurs at the cable giant cried “racism” upon the release of a video of an obscure agriculture official, Shirley Sherrod, speaking to an NAACP gathering. Smith bristled at the way some pushed the outrage button without knowledge of the video’s validity. An airing of the full speech soon showed Sherrod had actually helped a white farmer and called for racial cooperation.

Just a few days ago, Smith again bucked the conservative line, asking how Republicans could be stalling legislation to provide aid to 9-11 first responders’ medical care (the measure eventually passed) while “we are able to pay for tax cuts for billionaires who don’t need them, and it’s not going to stimulate the economy.”

Smith had the courage to reject his employer’s standard talking points. (Though he didn’t do as well honoring the supposed line between news and opinion.)

Sandra Rodríguez and Luz Sosa showed up for work every day in 2010. In much of their country, Mexico, and especially their city, Juarez, that alone could be considered an audacious act. The El Diario de Ciudad Juarez journalists reported on the relentless murder and mayhem of an ongoing drug war, which has made the city one of the most dangerous on earth.

A group of European journalists awarded the two women special recognition for “extraordinary valor in every sense.” Bringing rationality to the extreme violence may be beyond reach, but Sosa and Rodriguez at least bore witness. They have provided what details they can about the killing. They have remained at their posts, even after constant threats and the murder of a couple of colleagues drove off many of their contemporaries.

If Barry Blitt‘s work in 2010 doesn’t jump out, it’s only because he’s a member of that beleaguered and mostly anonymous fraternity — the cartoonists. New Yorker readers recognize Blitt’s consistently pithy, droll artistry, most memorably his take on the trials and tribulations of the man in the Oval Office.

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Last February, Blitt’s cover featured a series of panels of President Obama, first walking on water, then sinking right in. More recently, he drew a bemused House Speaker-in Waiting John Boehner holding up a fist for a knuckle bump from Obama. The president coolly offers a handshake. That cover harked to Blitt’s most famous — the 2008 satire on stereotypes of then-candidate Obama and wife Michelle. Both dressed like jihadists, he in turban and she tricked out with bandoliers and an assault rifle.

Blitt’s drawings often cut to the bone but also harpoon the heart. In another New Yorker cover, oil-stained animals sat at a dais to question a man in a suit about the Gulf oil spill. In another, a man on the beach aimed his remote toward a too-noisy world and pushed the pause button.

Anderson Cooper takes a lot of guff for his cover boy looks and his ritualistic donning of a tight, black T-shirt, every time he alights in one of the world’s trouble spots. The caricatures may be true. But they don’t begin to describe what the CNN host does after he’s on the ground.

With the deadly quake in Haiti last January, Cooper again proved himself a master of disaster. He somehow maintained his humanity and dignity in the face of extreme suffering and anxiety, not to mention his employer’s attempts to turn him into an idol with constant promos. Cooper kept the focus on the story and those in need. And he returned after the immediate crisis, to make sure no one forgot that relief efforts are far from over in one of the Western Hemisphere’s poorest countries.

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Ruben Vives and Jeff Gottlieb turned what might have been a routine local story into one of the blockbuster investigations in recent memory. The stories teamed a somewhat unlikely pair — the Los Angeles Times’ Vives, a one-time news assistant with just a few years experience, with Times colleague Gottlieb, who had decades in the news business.

Initial questions about the city of Maywood’s sickly finances spilled over to neighboring Bell. That led to a fateful meeting with city officials last summer. City Manager Robert Rizzo came clean about his whopping salary, more than $700,000 a year, and an iconic story of local corruption was born.

Vives, Gottlieb and a team of Times reporters have been on the case ever since, expanding coverage to other cities with queasy financial practices. They have uncovered a cesspool of ruinous spending in Bell, sketchy financial maneuvers and shameless profiteering on the backs of working class residents.

When dilettantes like me showed up to follow up on the story, the locals overflowed with attaboys for my colleagues’ good work. It’s nice to have heroes in your backyard, a reminder that traditional reporting and, yes, newspapers, can still lead the way in a time of endless change.james.rainey@latimes.com

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Twitter: latimesrainey


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