Matt Lait is the city editor at the Los Angles Times and an adjunct instructor at the University of Southern California. Lait helped receive the 2016 Barlett & Steele Bronze Award for Investigative Business Journalism on behalf of the Times for its reporting on OxyContin during a ceremony at Arizona State University in November.
What advice do you have for young journalists?
Just be inquisitive, to always figure out things and find ways around obstacles. People are going to throw roadblocks in your way, they’re going say, “You don’t have access to that, we’re not going to talk to you.” I think good reporters find ways around those obstacles. They’re persistent. They’re creative. They think of ways to find solutions to their problems and continually dig. That would be my overriding advice, just be inquisitive, dig, don’t be discouraged.
If you could go back in time and tell yourself something at the start of your career, what would you say?
It’s hard to say to somebody who’s starting out, “Be more confident, don’t be pushed around.” Because you’re new, you’re inexperienced but with experience comes confidence. I would just try to encourage people to not be intimidated. You have a right to this information. Be confident in what you’re pursuing and what you’re doing. It comes with experience but if you could magically make that happen at the start of your career, that would be really helpful.
Why do you think business reporting is important?
I think business reporting is tremendously important because not a lot of reporters totally understand it and I think abuses occur from the lack of understanding. There’s fewer people that are watchdogs and able to hold people accountable but when you understand how transactions work and who’s benefitting and who’s getting paid off or who’s getting rich, that’s the foundation for a lot of investigative stories.
What is the ultimate goal in journalism?
The ultimate goal is the truth and the truth will hold people accountable and will expose things that should be exposed. That’s your main objective, is the truth.