Erica E. Phillips is managing editor at the Los Angeles Business Journal. She previously worked at The Wall Street Journal’s Los Angeles bureau, first as a general assignment reporter and then covering shipping, logistics, and global supply chains. Prior to moderating a UCLA Anderson/Zócalo Public Square panel titled “Is America Ready for the Next Recession?,” she sat down in the green room and spoke about her childhood nicknames, her love of Long Beach, and shipping container spotting.
What are you reading right now?
Right now I’m reading a novel called Pull Me Under by Kelly Luce. And I found it at Stories [the bookstore] in Echo Park. No one I know has ever heard of it, but so far so good.
What question do you get asked most often by aspiring journalists?
Well, two questions, that are actually really different, but I’ll just give you both of them:
One is whether they should get into journalism. And I’ll give you my answer as well—which is yes, journalism needs smart people. And I think the best thing to do is to work in a newsroom. It helps you understand the pace and the requirements of doing news on a daily schedule.
The other question is, do you get assigned stories, or do you go out and find your own? I think the case for everyone is a mix of both. And now that I’m an editor, that is still true. Actually, I like reporters who have their own ideas. I think they’re more invested in ideas that they get right from the reporting itself. Young journalists should be encouraged to be creative and develop their ideas.
What keeps you up at night?
Deadline. And … I have to be diplomatic actually. I’ll just say deadline.
Did you have any nicknames as a kid?
Yes. Let’s see. So my name’s Erica Phillips. I’ve had people call me Phil; people call me E-Rock. I was briefly called Slice, as in home slice. There’s still a group of people in my life that refer to me as Slice. And just a ton from my parents. The kid. The list goes on.
How do you pass the time when you’re stuck in traffic?
Usually sing to the radio. Flip radio stations. I love the radio. I like to listen to Karen Sharp on KOST. And I have a little-known secret: I have called in and spoken with Karen Sharp on her show. That’s an exclusive detail that no one knows about me.
If you didn’t live in Los Angeles, where would you be?
How could you not live in Los Angeles? Um, no—I would probably be where I grew up, in Minneapolis, but it’s way too cold there. I’m never leaving.
What do you miss about Minneapolis?
Two things. They have excellent ice cream. No one else comes close. And they have very delicious bread, which is also something no one else can do as well as Minneapolis. Well, I guess maybe France.
What would you do if you had one more hour in the day?
Boring answer. I would sleep. Extremely boring answer. Maybe go for a walk.
How much is too much to pay for a good cup of coffee?
Anything over two dollars. I like black coffee, and I like it from a big pot. But it has to be good. I don’t necessarily think that the pour-over thing is that necessary.
What’s the best book you’ve read in the last year?
The Power by Naomi Alderman. Hands down. It’s going to be a TV series. I can’t wait.
What’s your favorite place to travel to?
Mexico. I haven’t really even been to the beaches in Mexico, but I just like the cities.
Where do you take out-of-town guests when they come to Los Angeles?
Let’s see. We almost always go to Griffith Park Observatory. Boring answer. Oh, I know: the fun answer! Everyone should do this: the ports of L.A. and Long Beach.
Our last visitor was my dad, and we drove down there. And you can actually—the roads go right up to the terminals—and you can just kind of drive around the containers. Really good photo ops. There’re tons of like, industrial, cool stuff. So yeah, it’s really fun. And everyone is always like, “Whoa, it’s so big!” It’s the largest port in the Western Hemisphere.
I love Long Beach. That should have been my answer to “where would you live if you weren’t in L.A.” Long Beach. Absolutely the answer. I love Long Beach. It feels actually kind of like Minneapolis but just happens to be Southern California.
What’s one thing people don’t understand about journalists?
I think people do understand that journalists have extremely fragile egos. But what people don’t understand, right now, is how meticulous journalist are, and really particular and fact-driven—to the point that it’s annoying. You know, we’re the kind of people if you’re talking to us and you mention something in passing that we’re intrigued by, be prepared to answer, like, a million, actually kind of annoying questions. And levels of detail that you didn’t expect to get to. Yeah, it’s kind of obnoxious! But that’s the way to do the job. That’s the way to get it right.
What recent story are you most proud to have reported on?
This isn’t extremely recent, but it’s a lot of fun. It’s one of my go-tos. A couple years ago when I was at the Wall Street Journal I covered freight and trade, and all the physical businesses. Everything from warehouses to trucks to trains, ocean shipping, and all that kind of thing, which is why I was always at the [Long Beach] port, and is why I love going down there.
I met a couple of people who have this hobby called container spotting. It’s basically like bird watching, except you know so much about all of the different shipping companies. And you know where to go to see shipping containers, and these people keep lists and logs of all the ones they’ve seen. So shipping companies will have different colored [containers]. Or their logos change over time, so if you see the older logo that’s a huge deal, or if you see their refrigerated container as opposed to their dry ones, that’s a huge deal. I got to go out with a couple of people and do some container spotting. We were like, you know, sneaking into container yards, and taking pictures, and stuff. These are interesting people. Very bizarre hobby. It was a really fun story.