FREE PRESS -- The latest and starkest California casualty to the business collapse of the regional press giants is the once great Los Angeles Times itself. While a lot is being written (and should be) about the cascading shrinkage, bankruptcy and even closures of daily newspapers, and a lot debated about whether the papers' Internet nemesis can or should be a solution as well, less is noted about the impact of this crisis on daily journalism's self-proclaimed role as a monitor of the mighty.

One sobering example: Times columnist James Rainey comments on the fact that meetings of the Board of Supervisors of Los Angeles County, a polity with a greater population than all but the largest seven states and an economy to match, are covered by just four reporters. 

Only a handful of states have budgets bigger than Los Angeles County's. NASA spends 25% less in a year. The county's welfare and foster care departments serve the neediest, whose ranks will only grow as the economy staggers.
    And the county's purse strings are controlled by just five politicians, the Board of Supervisors, whose powerful incumbency means they almost never face serious reelection challenges.
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    Back in my day, as many as a dozen full-time reporters walked this beat, filling the row of cramped, glass-walled cubicles on the dimly lit fourth floor just above the supervisors meeting room. (The Times had at least half a dozen other reporters at its downtown mother ship, digging deep into city and county government.)
    All these reporters competed for scoops and broke big stories: about the cut-rate leases granted to developers of county-owned Marina del Rey, about inflated pensions for the supervisors, about lavish spending on chauffeured limousines and scandals in county departments.
    Now most of those glass-walled offices might as well be museum cases -- desks, faxes and notepads left behind. Like people got out in a hurry.

And if the Times publisher doesn't see the catastrophic loss in terminating its paper's metro (local and state news) section, readers do.  One writes:

Despite the continuous shrinking of the Times, I have maintained my subscription to support the public service which the paper performs. I believe that service is strongest in its investigation of and reporting on local news and events, such as the failure of King Drew Hospital or corruption in local government, which no other news organization appears able to perform. The demise of a separate California (section) will signal the end of the Times’ commitment to this service, and with it the need for my subscription. What Times management has never understood is that while readers can get national and international news from many, often free, sources, we can get real, substantial local news only from the Times.