L.A. Times city editor Hector Becerra shared reporting advice and his experience writing about his hometown of Boyle Heights with the High School Insider interns Friday.
Through his reporting, he’s told distinctive stories such as “Remembering ‘the last Jewish man of Boyle Heights’” and “A day in the strawberry fields seems like forever,” which delve into the life of one of the last Jewish people in a predominantly Mexican neighborhood and the struggles of an immigrant field worker. Becerra said he believes he’s a good street journalist, creating a comfortable dynamic between the interviewee and himself.
“I took a lot of pride in actually going an extra step,” Becerra said. “Finding people, knocking on their doors, getting them to trust me enough to let [me] in their living rooms and [talk] to me.”
He joined the L.A. Times as a general assignment reporter in 1999, later becoming the city editor for the California section in 2014. As a reporter, he was part of the team that won a Pulitzer Prize gold medal for public service for the coverage of official corruption in the city of Bell. He also later investigated corruption in the city of Vernon.
Becerra said his investigative reporting of Bell brought justice to a low-income city by causing reform within office and the prosecution of former officials. He said it was satisfying to see the impact of his reporting
“You can never underestimate the power of something like that to bring the newsroom together,” Becerra said.
One of his most memorable moments as a reporter was when he wrote about a 20-year-old fallen soldier. His death at war in Iraq led to his Catholic mother feeling angry with God, but she remained faithful. Becerra spent about two months with the family and listened to their stories of grief. He said the family became more comfortable confiding in him over those two months.
“After a while I would show up and the father would say in Spanish, ‘Here comes our prodigal son,’” Becerra said. “He would joke about me being this extra son that they suddenly adopted.”
He said a reporter may feel intimidated when approaching a source, but he advised High School Insider interns to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Becerra said journalists should make an interview feel like a conversation, even when asking the tough questions — that’s how he tends to gain people’s trust.
“When you’re a journalist, you have to remember that you’re a human being first,” he said.