LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Sue Manning, an editor in the Los Angeles bureau of The Associated Press who for decades co-ordinated coverage of some of the nation’s biggest news including the Los Angeles riots, the Northridge earthquake, the death of Michael Jackson and the O.J. Simpson saga, has died, her family said Monday. She was 71.
Police officers summoned by family members who couldn’t reach her found Manning dead on Sunday at her home in Glendale, California, her brother Daniel Manning told the AP. She appeared to have died in her sleep. The cause of death was not immediately known, and an autopsy was planned.
Few knew her byline, which rarely appeared, but millions read the news she assigned, co-ordinated, edited, rewrote and flashed to the globe.
“So much of the crazy, tragic, extraordinary news the world devoured about Los Angeles for so many years was written — fast and with style — by Sue behind the scenes,” said Sally Buzbee, AP’s executive editor who worked in Los Angeles in the early 1990s. “She was the rock — and the kind warm soul — of the place.”
Manning was a magnet for major news from the beginning of her AP career, covering the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, covered in ash as she sent dispatches from the scene.
She moved to the AP’s bureau in Los Angeles shortly before the 1984 Olympics put the region in the world’s spotlight and quickly rose to the essential and influential seat of supervising editor, acting as the newsroom’s decisive anchor at a time when few women had media leadership positions.
“She was part of a growing group of women in critical roles at The Associated Press, and her influence was felt in how she helped drive coverage,” said AP Television Writer Lynn Elber, who became a reporter in the LA bureau shortly after Manning’s arrival. “Sue approached that position as someone who was consistently calm and steady and decisive in a way that made everyone who worked under her feel fortunate.”
Her desk was the starting point and the end point for news in a region where it always seemed to be breaking.
“Sue was the linchpin of AP’s coverage of some of the biggest domestic stories of the ’80s and ’90s, directing reporters in the field, taking dictation, and pulling the various threads together into a coherent, constantly updated story,” said George Garties, who worked as a reporter with Manning and later as assistant bureau chief. “She was often the actual uncredited writer of stories the world saw about Southern California: earthquakes, wildfires, and of course O.J. Simpson, from the Bronco chase through two trials.”
John Antczak, an AP editor who worked next to Manning for decades, called her a “classic newsroom leader” who was “quick to clear the decks and get everybody rolling when something really big happened.”
Manning was among the most beloved figures at the AP, a sister, mother and mentor figure to dozens of reporters and editors who passed through her newsroom.
Sometimes called the “den mother” of the LA bureau, she served as its historian, photographer, scrapbooker and party planner, never failing to remember a birthday or to acknowledge births, deaths, anniversaries and milestones in her colleagues’ lives.
“If she missed your birthday, she was genuinely sad,” said Andy Lippman, Manning’s bureau chief for much of her tenure, who said he got marshmallow Peeps from her every birthday for five years after saying once that he was a fan. “The AP was her family and she relished not only working, but sharing happy and sad moments with everyone she worked with.”
She was a devoted fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and organized bureau trips to games and an annual weenie roast for opening day.
“Some say Dodger Stadium is aging — albeit gracefully. But to fans, age has only added to its beauty,” Manning wrote in a first-person AP story in 1998 on the team and the stadium she loved to visit that sits just a mile and a half from the newsroom. “At the top of that perfect hill, sun setting, batter digging in, pitcher winding up, peanut shells crunching underfoot, mustard dripping from a hot dog, organ cranking up, you know what baseball should feel like, smell like and taste like.”
She was also a lover of Las Vegas, country music and animals. She moved from her supervisor’s chair to become AP’s pets columnist for the last seven years of her career.
The eldest of four children, Manning was born in Topeka, Kansas, on Feb. 11, 1947. Shortly after her birth, her family moved to California, where she would live in various cities for most of the rest of her life, though she considered the city of Chino her home, her brother said.
Manning’s father, a U.S. Marine, died when she was 10 years old. Her sister, Melinda, died in 2010. She is survived by her brother Daniel and another sister, Connie.
Manning graduated from Cal Poly, Pomona, where she worked at the school’s newspaper the Poly Post, then got her first journalism job nearby at the Ontario Daily Report.
In the late 1970s she got her first AP job in Spokane, Washington, the beginning of a 38-year career with the news organization that included a brief stint in Seattle before her permanent move to Los Angeles.
In 2001, the AP gave her its highest internal honour, the Oliver S. Gramling award, noting her grace under pressure.
Colleagues poured out tributes to her at her 2016 retirement.
“This woman who made the AP her life has been our heart and soul in so many ways,” AP Special Correspondent Linda Deutsch wrote in a tribute to Manning at the time, “the smile that kept us from tears when we covered those hard stories, the joyous spirit that loved the news as much as we did.”