Muckraking Web Master Digs Dirt on Long Beach

Publishers of a new weekly Long Beach newspaper claim that L.A. County's second largest city is media-starved. Some residents and civic leaders say the city's only daily newspaper can't do it all. They point to a Long Beach Web site they say is providing original reporting missed by many media outlets. KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez reports.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: Several times a day, the e-mail subject lines from LBReport.com scream into computer in-boxes across the city it covers.

Voice-over of subject line: "LBReport.com. Violence mars LB weekend. Homicide, 2000 block Lemon Avenue. Triple shooting, 6900 LB Boulevard."

Voice-over of subject line: "LBReport.com. We name contributors. Including some big spenders inside and outside LB. Bankrolling political committee to influence LB voters."

Voice-over of subject line: "LBReport.com. Council exempts pending developments from public safety impact fee. Action expected to cost 2.7 million in revenue for police and fire infrastructure."

Guzman-Lopez: Web site founder Bill Pearl started the online publication six years ago. The postcard-like Long Beach featured in frequent TV weather shots, he says, is not what he and many other residents see every day.

Bill Pearl: A Long Beach housewife used the Internet to question why city hall wasn't collecting rent that seemed to be due to that Queen Mary operator. And then they see an aquarium over in the corner that was supposed to pay its own debt, its own way, but it now uses public money, drains it, that could otherwise be used to improve what remains of Long Beach's formerly long beach. And if you turn the camera north, so it faces away from the shore, you see central Long Beach, where there are people too often victimized by crime.

Guzman-Lopez: LBReport.com is a one-man operation. Pearl posts audio of phone interviews he's conducted, crime scene photos, and pictures he's snapped of televised city council meetings.

Pearl is 56 years old, a Los Angeles native, and a UCLA law school graduate. Although he worked in Southland talk radio during the 1970s and '80s, in his current work he seems eager to direct attention to the Web site and away from himself.

Pearl declined a face-to-face interview for this story. Although he has no formal training as a reporter, he contends he's a journalist, not just another gadfly with a blog.

Bill Pearl moved to Long Beach 15 years ago. Not long after, he sensed the daily Press-Telegram wasn't doing its job.

He says the newspaper's editorial pages vowed to hold city hall accountable to its pledge to grow the police force.

Pearl: But they didn't. And Long Beach still doesn't have those police levels. We have pointed that out repeatedly.

Guzman-Lopez: On the LB Report's home page, wide margins of ads flank the news stories. Pearl says he's not rich, but the Web site pays his bills. He won't disclose membership figures or how many hits the site gets.

Rae Gabelich: He knows everything that's going on. Actually that's sometimes my way to find out the details.

Guzman-Lopez: Long Beach Councilwoman Rae Gabelich says plenty of eyeballs at city hall take a look at the Web site every day. Gabelich says LBReport.com shines when it digs dirt on port pollution and what she calls developers' outsized influence on city government. Pearl's reporting on all that has upset plenty of people at city hall.

Gabelich: If you're supporting what's good for the city at large, then you're probably going to be really happy about what Bill writes. If you don't agree or you have an interest or special interest pulling you in another direction, then you might not want to read what he has to say.

Guzman-Lopez: Gabelich says LBReport.com sets a high bar for a handful of new Long Beach Web sites and the new weekly publication The District.

Many civic leaders say Long Beach has gone too long without in-depth local news coverage.

But that doesn't seem to bother some residents. Patrick Rhoades has lived there for 25 years. He hasn't visited LBReport.com or read The District Weekly. Though he couldn't name a specific story, he maintains there's plenty of Long Beach coverage on L.A.-area TV and radio.

Patrick Rhoades: All the national news do name news in their coverage, I've noticed, whether it be weather, or a little trivia, I've noticed Long Beach is being named, even on the national stages.

Guzman-Lopez: It appears the challenge for the new Long Beach news media will be to convince people who live in the sunny port city that they don't dwell in paradise.