Wednesday, July 23, 2008

From Publishers Lunch:

Newspapers and Books: How Far We've Fallen

It was just over a year ago that the NBCC was able to rally people outside the offices of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on behalf of Teresa Weaver after her job as book editor was eliminated. Weaver didn't get rehired by the paper but at least a point was made. Now, with deep staff and coverage cuts at newspapers all across the country, the people who cover books and the slim pages that carried their work are all but marked for extinction. The reorganization at the Tribune Company is remaking such papers as the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Hartford Courant, Orlando Sentinel, Baltimore Sun and South Florida Sun-Sentinel into considerably smaller versions.
The latest announced layoff with respect to books is Hartford Courant books editor since 2002 Carole Goldberg. (The paper's pages are being reduced by twenty-five percent.)Yesterday former LAT Book Review editors Steve Wasserman, Sonja Bolle, Digby Diehl, and Jack Miles circulated a letter that has gotten some pick-up, but in today's environment it reads more as an obituary than a rallying cry:
"As former editors of the Los Angeles Times Book Review (1975 through 2005), we are dismayed and troubled at the decision by Sam Zell and his managers to cease publishing the paper's Sunday Book Review."This step signals the end of an era begun 33 years ago when Otis Chandler, then the paper's publisher and owner, announced the debut of the weekly section. Since then, the growth of the Los Angeles metropolitan region and the avidity of its numerous readers and writers has been palpable. For example, every year since its founding in 1996, the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books has attracted upwards of 140,000 people to the UCLA campus from all walks of life throughout Southern California. Four hundred writers from all over America typically participate. The written word is celebrated. It is the most significant civic event undertaken by the Los Angeles Times to deepen literacy and to strengthen the bond between its news coverage and its far-flung community of readers. But without the Book Review itself, the book festival will be a hollow joke."The dismantling of the Sunday Book Review section and the migration of a few surviving reviews to the Sunday Calendar section represents a historic retreat from the large ambitions which accompanied the birth of the section."See the rest of the letter (and post comments) here

Tribune competitor Teresa Budasi covered the letter on Chicago Sun-Times blog, but added this: "As a book editor who's been through the process of losing a section and being downsized in another, I sympathize with them. But wake up, people! The fiscal health of the newspaper business was in the toilet long before they decided to ax a section. Now is the time to take what you're left with and do what you can with it. Just as the newspaper business as a whole is trying to figure out ways to reinvent itself, book review editors must do the same, whether it be by running shorter reviews, beefing up online content or what have you. Stop complaining about loss of culture and glorifying the past and move into the 21st century -- where books are still plenty and people are still reading!"

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