During 34 years at the Los Angeles Times, Sandy Banks has been a reporter, editor, columnist, editorial writer, and director of the newspaper’s internship program. Before participating in a panel on the future of L.A. newspapers, she talked about a journalism job that was so bad it made covering a murder good, and the most underrated thing about life in the San Fernando Valley in the Zócalo green room.
What animal would you want to be?
I think I’d want to be a dog. We always say in my house we want to be our dog Rio, the little one. He lays around and gets petted and hugged and fed. I’d want to be a dog with a really nice family.
What’s the most underrated thing about life in the Valley?
The convenience. There are probably four parks within a mile of my home, or two miles of my home, there’s a million Starbucks, the streets are wide—you have a lot of choices as a consumer. That’s the thing I miss most when I’m trying to navigate these streets over here.
Who was your childhood hero?
I don’t remember having a hero, but I remember the first time I had to write a paper about heroes, and I wrote about Tommie Smith and John Carlos in the Olympics, standing on the victory podium giving the black power salute, which was really radical back then. To use your platform to make an important statement was really heroic.
What did you have for lunch today?
I had oatmeal with blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries. I haven’t eaten since this morning. That’s not a bad lunch.
What’s your biggest irrational fear?
I always have a fear that something’s happening with my kids. I’ve got three daughters. Two live up in the Bay Area, and one lives here. If I ever call and can’t reach them, I am irrationally convinced they are dead.
You’ve done so many jobs in newspapers. Which was your least favorite?
When I was in Cleveland working the police beat from midnight to 7 a.m. in the police station. It was a crappy police station in a bad part of town, and the policemen wouldn’t speak to me. It was mostly listening to the radio and making a hundred calls a night: “Hi, this is Sandy Banks, is anything going on?” It was a job that was so bad that it was good when you went out on a murder and found a dead body, because at least something happened. It lasted about six months. I was 22.
What do you do to clear your mind?
I walk outside, and that’s the other really good thing about the Valley—I can, at 2 a.m. when I can’t sleep, take walks around the neighborhood. And that’s what I do when I’m writing or I’m frustrated. There’s something about outside that just puts everything in perspective.
What’s your favorite plant or flower?
Roses. Definitely roses. I’ve got about a dozen, all that I picked out, in front of my house. Because they smell so good.
What’s the best advice you gave to L.A. Times interns?
To be who you are, because that’s all you have to offer the newspaper—your own set of experiences and your own perspective on things. Don’t try to conform to somebody else’s view of what you think is important or what you should be doing.
What surprises you most about your life right now?
How happy I am—content maybe—to be alone. My kids are mostly gone, I have my dogs, I have my house, and I’m OK with it. I would not have thought that. I like people, I like being in a relationship. And I am surprisingly OK with just me, being with myself.