Rick Orlov — city hall reporter for the Los Angeles Daily News — died this past Monday. He was 66.
In a place full of chatterers, Rick Orlov was a listener.
Orlov was the Daily News’ city hall reporter for decades, and in him, the politicians and bureaucrats and lobbyists found a ready ear and tough brain.
Rick covered five mayors in his decades of reporting — five. It’s a good thing there’s no term limits for reporters, because Rick’s knowledge, his reporting and interviewing and writing, made him an indispensable source for his readers — and the people he covered.
Some of his obituaries were calling him a journalist. Talking heads and TV gasbags who have never so much as covered a fire or interviewed a crime victim like to call themselves “journalists.” I suspect Rick would have preferred the honorable word “reporter,” for the guy who actually calls the sources and plows through the paperwork and knows his stuff backwards and forwards.
A reporter like Rick didn’t need Google — he was Google; his brain was chock-full of the information that other people had to look up. And much of the time, what they’d find would have Rick’s byline at the top.
Rick could be a funny guy, tossing out asides that everyone strained to hear. There was a rasp in his voice, a voice that you could imagine coming out from under a fedora, through a haze of smoke at a poker table or holding forth at a newspaperman’s favorite bar. Which, except for the fedora, is how a lot of us heard some of Rick’s best stories.
In the years before cell phone video and Twitter tended to dismantle that useful gentlemen’s agreement called "off the record," Rick made his City Hall office a quote-free zone where everyone, pols and press, could open up a little, with tips and a tipple, about the workings of government.
His in-the-room reporting took readers deep inside that tall white granite tower, and made City Hall a real place full of real people, not just names in press releases. Here’s a bit from his column of a couple of years ago:
During a transportation committee meeting, new councilman Mike Bonin tried using Skype to allow people to call into committee meetings. Councilman Bob Blumenfield called in on the system, but he could not be heard. At one point, Bonin asked, “Does anyone here read lips?”
City Hall isn’t the glamor beat here that it is in Chicago, where Rick was born; L.A. city government gets cast in the shade by Hollywood.
But it’s vital to Angelenos, and Rick knew it. He knew that we live from pothole to pothole, and tax bill to tax bill, and even though we might not know about the civic mysteries behind broken building codes and untrimmed trees and higher sewer taxes, Rick did, and he could be counted on to tell us. He wasn’t about the clicks. He was about the news.