According to Rachel Deahl at PW Sam Zell (and presumably the rest of the Tribune Co. employees with their insane capitalization) has finally had his way with the standalone L.A. Times Book Review section and is folding it into the Calendar Section. (Man, that seems like an insult—couldn’t they at least fold the Calendar into the Books Section?) Even worse is the fact that they’re laying off two dedicated book review editors.
Of course, the Tribune Co. is still “committed” to books (and winning the World Series one century after the perennial “wait till next year” campaign began . . . good luck with that one, Cubbies!):
Nancy Sullivan, executive director of corporate communications at the paper, would not comment on any staff cuts or the future of the standalone book review section. Noting that more definitive news would be issued next week, she said that “the Times remains committed to book review coverage. What form that takes is what’s under evaluation.” But Wasserman said that the book review staff has been cut from five to three, and book review coverage will be placed in the Calendar section of the paper where it will share space with features.
Wasserman—along with three other past L.A. Times book review editors—released a statement about this situation:
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. [. . .]
Angelenos in growing number are already choosing to cancel their subscriptions to the Sunday Times. The elimination of the Book Review, a philistine blunder that insults the cultural ambition of the city and the region, will only accelerate this process and further wound the long-term fiscal health of the newspaper.
We urge readers and writers alike to join with us as we protest this sad and backward step.
This is really depressing . . . I’m afraid to google the actual answer, but I think that means that there’s only 2 or 3 remaining standalone book sections in the U.S.
From Tell Zell here’s an excerpt of a memo from Lee Abrams, Chief Innovation Officer at the Tribune Co.:
*Books: Heard a conversation about how Book reporting doesn’t generate revenue and may have to go away. WAIT! Maybe Book reviews and coverage are one of those things that don’t generate revenue right now, BUT—are trademarks for newspapers and elicit high passion from readers. At XM, we had Opera channels. Low listenership…HIGH passion…AND—it was one of those things that even if people didn’t listen or even like Opera, it was one of those things you had to have for completeness. Maybe Book sections in newspapers are just dated. Not the idea…but the look and feel. Maybe they’re modeled after a book store in 1967 whereas we’re in the Borders, Amazon, B&N era. Maybe they are too scholarly. Maybe they avoid genres like Christian books, Celebrity books and Popular novels, opting instead for reviews of the Philippine Socialist Movement in the 1800’s. The point here is maybe Book sections need to be as dramatically re-thought as Borders re-thought retail. Not dumbing down—but getting in sync with the 21st Century mainstream book reader.
Well, um, where to start? First off, I can’t imagine the Chicago Tribune reviewing many titles about the “Philippine Socialist Movement in the 1800’s.” [Sic—good thing they hire copy editors to check punctuation.] Really, if they were wasting space on titles like this, where would the put all the coverage of the baseball books?
Secondly, it seems pretty stupid to praise XM’s Opera station as “one of those things you had to have for completeness,” and then turn around five sentences later and imply that book review sections shouldn’t be so highbrow and should have reviews of “Christian books, Celebrity books and Popular novels.” [Again, sic re: this insane capitalization. I know it’s an e-memo, but please, you work for a fricking newspaper.]
I’m all in favor of newspapers retaining their books coverage (seriously, here in Rochester, there’s next to nothing, and I know things are even worse in places like Normal, IL), but with people like this in charge of newspapers, it’s even more pressing that outlets like NPR and PRI’s The World pick up the slack.
Oh, and because I can’t help myself—it’s management like this that’s the reason why the Cubs haven’t won the World Series in a century. That and Kerry Wood.
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