Like many great discoveries, it happened by accident. The LA Times reporter was initially looking into the finances of a neighboring city when he caught wind of an investigation going on in Bell, CA. Then he followed up with repeated requests for interviews and public records. With that information, he was able to piece the story together.
Here is my favorite quote from the account, partly because it so similar to the resistance TransparentNevada has faced in getting salary data from a few counties throughout the state:
"Literally every day, I'm calling the city clerk," [LA Times editor] Gottlieb said. "I'm telling her, 'Listen, are we getting the documents? I really don't want to sue you, but we will, and when we go to court, and we win, because we will, we'll ask the judge to make you pay our legal bills, because that's what the [public records] statute says.'"
Bravo, LA Times.