It's hard to imagine a police chief hugging and giving a fist bump to an aggressive, hard-nosed newspaper reporter covering the police beat.

The police and media aren't enemies, but they're not exactly pals, either.

But this past week, it was Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell doing the hugging and fist-bumping with Tracy Manzer, the veteran police/fire/court reporter for the Press-Telegram who left the newspaper Friday for Washington, D.C.

"This is a terrible day for us and the community with you leaving," McDonnell told Manzer in a surprise farewell in his office with his command staff and public information officers.

McDonnell gave Manzer a coveted gold police badge embedded in an acrylic trophy for her "fair and ethical reporting."

"We don't give out many of these," he said. "This is very, very special to us. You have helped us and the community with your sensitive and responsible reporting. You will be missed."

The occasion in the chief's office was a long way from that day in 1994 when Manzer first stepped foot in the old Press-Telegram building at Sixth Street and Pine Avenue. She was 20 years old, working on the Viking, the school newspaper at Long Beach City College, looking for a part-time job at the P-T. Her only other newspaper experience was some writing for the Newcomb Academy grade school newsletter and the Millikan High School student newspaper.

"I was a little intimidated by the Press-Telegram newsroom when I first saw it," she said. "All those people and everything. It was loud, but it was like I envisioned a newsroom to be."

Manzer interviewed and got a job as an editorial clerk. She was one of the hardest workers in the newsroom and was given reporting and writing assignments in addition to her clerk duties.

Eventually, she started working as a nightside reporter, which brought her into contact with police and fire stories.

She also came into contact with Helen Guthrie Smith who was to change her professional life. Smith was the legendary police reporter for the Press-Telegram, and she began mentoring the young Manzer.

"Helen is a big part of the reason that I was able to do the job I did," Manzer said. "When she died, I cried for 10 minutes and went to work writing her obituary. That's what she would have done. It was one of the hardest stories I have ever written. It's hard to do justice to someone who raised me at the Press-Telegram."

Smith died in 2003 and Manzer was selected to fill her position.

"Helen taught me to be straightforward with cops and always keep my word and never burn a source," Manzer said. "I really enjoyed the police beat. Cops and firefighters are a fraternal group. I liked the challenge. I had three older brothers so I sort of knew what to expect and how to handle them."

She blossomed in her job and wound up winning as many journalistic awards as anyone else ever has at the Press-Telegram.

Her most memorable story?

Hard to say, she said, but she did single out several.

One of the toughest, she said, was the racially charged story of 10 black youths accused of beating three white women in Bixby Knolls on Halloween seven years ago.

"That was a really polarizing story and ignited a powder keg in the community," she said. "There was gang intimidation of witnesses, and crazy white supremacists wrote awful stuff from outside Long Beach, which I forwarded to the police."

Another major story Manzer worked on was the Belmont Shore serial rapist. She got an exclusive interview with the suspect's mother, who said her son admitted the crimes shortly after his arrest in 2001.

The mother later changed her story, but the man was convicted.

Manzer also is proud of her contribution to a Press-Telegram series on Cambodians in Long Beach. She spent a week living with a Cambodian family in their home and did an insightful story on what life was like in Cambodia Town. She made such good friends with the family that they went to Tracy's wedding and continue to stay in touch with her.

The weirdest story she worked on, she said, involved a woman who beat an eight-pound Chihuahua to death with a barbell. The woman was put on probation and received counseling.

"I have seen so many amazing things," Manzer said. "I especially like those stories where the community comes together to help someone, like the woman who had her wheelchair stolen. People came out of the woodwork to buy her a new one."

Manzer has grown up at the Press-Telegram to become a star reporter on a tough beat. She has a great appreciation for her job at the P-T.

As she told me, "You are all my family at the paper, and I owe so much of my life to the paper. I think I'm one of the luckiest people I know."

She is moving to the East Coast with her husband, Keith, who works for recently elected U.S. Rep. Alan Lowenthal.

She plans to stay in journalism.

"It truly is a noble calling, and, while I'm far from noble, it has made the best parts of me," she said.


rich.archbold@presstelegram.com
562-499-1285
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