By Christian Mosqueda
Los Angeles Times reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner Ruben Vives was the guest of honor Thursday evening at Cal State Dominguez Hills, where roughly 70 students in attendance listened as he recounted his narrative.
Born in a small town in Guatemala, Vives was raised by his grandmother when his parents set out for the United States. It would be another five years before they would be reunited.
Vives grew up in the Echo Park area of Los Angeles before moving to Whittier during his high school years where he discovered his passion for writing.
‘’I liked what writing did when people read my stories,” Vives said. “The reaction that people had when they read them, made me think I want to do this.”
The reporter’s mother was a housekeeper for L.A. Times columnist Shawn Hubler. Hubler and her husband took the young Vives in and ultimately assisted him in securing his residency status. The Times offered Vives an internship over the summer at the Times to which he accepted.
He started out doing small labor jobs such as fixing copy machines, running errands, and getting coffee for veteran reporters. One day a colleague who was working on a story that dealt with medical malpractice occurring in a hospital that catered to mostly African-American and Latino communities, asked Vives if he could translate for a woman who had just lost her infant baby. With Vives’ contribution, the hospital would experience an overhaul that saw ethical and medical standards increased for that institution.
That was when Vives truly caught the journalism bug.
“[I didn’t know] you can write a story and make an impact,” he said. “I was hooked.”
Vives would go on to formally work for The Times as an assigned homicide reporter in 2007.
Vives’ job was to make sure every single homicide was being covered by the publication. Since losing an uncle to gang violence, Vives took this newfound beat to heart.
‘’I saw the effects that a homicide has on a family,” Vives said. “My family fell apart.”
Two years later he was assigned to cover the city of Maywood. There were rumors that the council members from Maywood were in cahoots with those from the city of Bell. It was at a town council meeting that Vives witnessed an entire police department get laid off.
This prompted The Times to assign Vives and veteran reporter Jeff Gottlieb to cover the developing story, more importantly the neighboring city of Bell.
It was there that Vives got his ‘big break’ as a trail of red flags led him to uncover a mass corruption reign by the leading officials in the city of Bell.
Vives and Gottlieb discovered that for years city officials had been scamming the taxpayers of Bell and paying themselves astronomical amounts in salaries while the city was undergoing one of the worst recessions in recent history. What ensued were convictions for several top officials for misappropriation of public funds, including City Manager Bob Rizzo, Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia, former Police Chief Randy Adams and former Mayor Oscar Hernandez.
Vives concluded his speech by heeding a warning about the current state of the media.
“This is what happens when you don’t have a press,” he said. “This is what happens when you’re not supporting local journalism.”
Vives, Gottlieb, and The Times won a Pulitzer Prize in Public Service for uncovering the scandal.
“The award is great but I’ve never been an award guy,” he said. “[I’m] Ruben Vives, reporter for the L.A Times, simple. It’s what I am.”