Archive for July 30th, 2011

The ongoing demise of the L.A. Times Book Review

Saturday, July 30th, 2011
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The “Incredible Shrinking Book Review Section,”  chapter 464:  this news from Publishers Weekly:

In a move as significant for its breadth as its implications for the future of book coverage, the Los Angeles Times book review laid off all of its freelance book reviewers and columnists on July 21.

Susan Salter Reynolds was with the Times for 23 years as both a staffer and freelancer and wrote the “Discoveries” column that appeared each week in the Sunday book review. She was told that her column was cancelled and will not be replaced by another writer. “I don’t know where these layoffs fit into the long-storied failure at the Times,” she said yesterday, “but these are not smart business decisions. This is shabby treatment.”

Four staffers remain in the book review section: David Ulin, Carolyn Kellogg, Nick Owchar, and [Jon] Thurber. In December 2009 the TimesTimes building.” Thurber did make an exception for Reynolds so she could come to the office to pick up the multiple review copies she received daily in order to produce her column.

In December 2009 the Times laid off 40 features writers, including Reynolds, but brought many of them back to work part-time. “We were paid about one-third of what we had been making, and lost our health insurance,” Reynolds says.

Reynolds nixed

Reynolds hadn’t quite finished having her say, and added in the comments section:  ‘There are probably ways to cut costs without eliminating a person’s entire income after twenty three years in one phone call. I offered to continue writing for very little money until things got better. Also the quote about continued commitment is insulting to readers’ intelligence. When I was laid off a year and a half ago I was assured by the editor of the book section that it was purely cost cutting and there would be no more hires. Next thing I knew he had become the book critic and then they hired a full time blogger one month later. I understand these are tough times but isn’t publishing a world in which expertise has some value?”

I remember writing for the Los Angeles Times Book Review back in the days when it was under the visionary leadership of Steve Wasserman (and Tom Curwen, too, as the deputy book edior).  We’re not talking the neolithic period – we’re talking about within the past decade.  In my opinion, it was at that time the best book review in the country, with articles that were intelligent, innovative, often reviewing off-the-beaten-track books that were going to influence our era, even if they didn’t make this year’s bestsellers list.

What a shame to see that legacy trashed.  By limiting itself to four writers, no matter how top-notch they might be, its isolating itself from the expertise that used to be its trademark.

Wrote Randy Rogers:  “Picking up my paper from the driveway this morning I looked at it and thought “If the LA Times gets any thinner I’m going to have to wait a few days just to have enough to line the bottom of a bird-cage.  Why am I still paying for this ghost of a rag?”