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Opinion: We won a Pulitzer, and you helped

The Los Angeles Times' headquarters on Imperial Highway in El Segundo.
(Los Angeles Times)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, June 12, 2021. This will be the final newsletter written while under California’s pandemic restrictions, which expire Tuesday. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

It’s been a banner week for the Los Angeles Times’ editorial board, and frankly, I’ve been waiting a long time to write a newsletter this celebratory. Last Sunday, we posted a collection of eight editorials on the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic might force California to transform itself into a more equitable and sustainable society. This series has been in the works for months and involved thousands of suggestions from readers (and as this newspaper’s letters editor, I can attest to how long those take to read). We’ll get back to those editorials in a bit.

What was already a busy week turned into one truly to remember on Friday, when editorial board member Robert Greene was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his editorials on criminal justice reform in Los Angeles County, capped by a 2020 retrospective on a year that, in Greene’s words (but speaking for the entire editorial board), “brought into focus some hard truths that we cannot now unsee, try as we might.”

In many ways, the editorial board pieces written and reported by Greene put the Los Angeles Times at the forefront of legacy institutions arguing for criminal justice reform. This goes back years — back to when then-Gov. Jerry Brown’s efforts to “realign” incarceration and rehabilitation sparked a backlash that, as the editorial board said at the time, was deeply misguided. Fast-forward several years, and Greene and our editorial board finally received Pulitzer acclaim for pieces endorsing George Gascón for district attorney, speaking up for the safety of jail inmates during a pandemic, and admonishing policymakers and law enforcement for choosing “racism and prisons over public health” during the 1980s crack cocaine epidemic.

At a time when Americans were forced to contemplate issues of systemic racism and police brutality, our editorial board’s advocacy for criminal justice reform and reimagining public safety may have drawn a closer look than usual. But in reality, these editorials represent just a part of Greene’s extensive catalog of reporting and writing powerfully on these issues.

As for our “normal” Opinion journalism, it was anything but this week. As I mentioned at the start of this newsletter, our editorial board published eight pieces this week contemplating the profound changes California should make so it can recover strongly from the pandemic. This is an endeavor that requires diagnosing the state’s ills, most of which were not created by the pandemic but merely exposed and amplified by it. Here is what the editorial board said:

COVID-19 exposed truths that America and California can no longer ignore: “There is no silver lining in this cataclysmic event. But to move forward, America must recognize the fractures, weaknesses and inequalities in many of our systems. We must move from toxic individualism toward collective uplift.” Read more.

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We’ve discovered we can work from home. There’s no turning back: “The pandemic radically infused the white-collar working world with enormous flexibility. Let’s be clear: This is largely an option for a segment of the workforce; employees who perform hands-on jobs or must physically show up for work largely did not have this option. Still, remote work is now a proven concept for many jobs, including many that seemed impossible to shift to telework before.” Read more.

Want single-payer healthcare? California needs a public option first: “A public option, spending goals and expanded eligibility for subsidies aren’t perfect substitutes for a well-designed single-payer system, but they have one clear advantage: They’re doable. With the pandemic exposing deep flaws in how Californians are insured, it’s time not just for bold steps, but also achievable ones.” Read more.

Post-pandemic, let’s make capitalism more equitable: “Unfortunately, this financial meltdown was the second time in just over a decade that millions of people have been thrown out of work. Those shocks to the economy have cast in sharp relief just how tenuous some jobs can be, particularly in a consumer-driven economy. Yet, for better or worse, we’re stuck with our capitalist system. But that doesn’t mean we can’t find ways to make it work more equitably for everyone, particularly those most vulnerable to layoffs and financial hardship.” Read more.

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The pandemic let us imagine a world without waste: “There may be no better time to undertake such significant structural changes than in the post-pandemic recovery over the next few years. ... People have already been forced to accept massive disruptions in their habits and expectations ... and may be open to the permanent changes that would be required to transition to a circular economy. Supply chains are likely to continue to be strained, opening the door to more small, local manufacturing and a growth in the repair economy.” Read more.

There’s no going back on sentencing and prison reform: “We will still need prisons, and we will still include punishment as part of the mix of responses to crimes that inflict serious damage on people and communities — but in measured, appropriate doses, enough to keep people safe, yet not so excessive as to forever condemn the perpetrators who can make amends and be brought back into the fold. The other path is to reopen, or keep open, the complex of prisons in which tens of thousands of people can nurse their hopelessness and remain vulnerable to pandemics.” Read more.

You shouldn’t need a college degree to live a decent life in America: “The COVID-19 pandemic made clearer than ever the inequities in our education system, as some students learned online with the help of tutors and well-resourced parents while others lacked even reliable broadband. It laid bare the stresses of college students who couldn’t afford their tuition and of graduates without the money to pay off their college debts. What if the problem with college education isn’t that we don’t have enough of it, but that in some ways we have too much?” Read more

To solve homelessness, California should declare a right to housing: “A right to housing doesn’t mean that the government gives everyone free housing. A right to housing would offer protection against forced eviction and legal counsel to people facing eviction. It should be used to incentivize the creation of affordable housing — and to prioritize the provision of housing over parochial land-use and unnecessary environmental impact reviews and arguments, grounded in NIMBYism, that are often used to block the development of multifamily residences and housing for homeless people.” Read more.

So, what does all of this — the Pulitzer, the editorial series — have to do with you? Well, everything.

If you’re reading this, chances are you already subscribe to this newsletter or pay to read the Los Angeles Times. It is this dedicated reading that makes our journalism possible, and it is your participation that makes our journalism better. In fact, the thousands of letters we received last year in response to our call for reader input on reimagining the crucial institutions and services stressed by the pandemic helped the editorial board understand how much change people might be willing to accept (spoiler: a lot). In short, we cannot thank our readers enough.

Stay in touch.

If you’ve made it this far, you’re the kind of reader who’d benefit from subscribing to our other newsletters and to the Times.

As always, you can share your feedback by emailing me at paul.thornton@latimes.com.


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