Wow. Oh wow. Slash-and-burn time at The Washington Post Book World

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Bye bye.

A dozen days ago we reported on the ongoing demise of the L.A. Times Book Review.  Now there’s more bad news:  This time it’s slash-and-burn time again at the once-venerable Washington Post Book World.

Here’s a chunk of the memo from WaPo Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli, as leaked to Fishbowl DC:

Our books staff, ably led for the past two and a half years by Rachel Shea, will now report into the sections where their reviews run. Non-fiction editor Steve Levingston will report to Outlook, which publishes non-fiction reviews, and fiction editor Ron Charles, and the rest of Book World’s assistant editors, will report to Style, which hosts most fiction coverage and reviews. The assistant editors will support both fiction and non-fiction reviews and coverage. This approach will allow tighter and smarter integration of our books coverage with the host sections, in print and online. We’re not trimming coverage; we will publish the same number of reviews, in the same places where readers are accustomed to finding them.

While these changes are meant to enhance the quality, quantity and range of content we produce in these groups, they will affect a small number of newsroom jobs. We don’t make these decisions lightly; they are a necessary part of our continuing effort to create a lean newsroom structure capable of producing the high-quality journalism our readers expect from us. We remain firmly committed to deep, smart and relevant coverage of travel, food and books.

It’s not like they’ve been short on cost-cutting measures.  This from 2009, when the paper dissolved one of the last surviving stand-alone book sections in the nation:

“Of course it’s disappointing,” Rachel Shea, the editor who will oversee The Post‘s coverage, said of yesterday’s announcement. “It’s nice to have a separate section with big display and a big shout-out to what the most important book is. But it’s not worth gnashing our teeth about too much.”   In dropping one of the few remaining stand-alone book sections in American newspapers, Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli said that the coverage will be shifted to the Style section and a revamped Outlook section. Shea said that The Post would publish about three-quarters of the roughly 900 reviews it has carried each year. The change will take effect Feb. 22.

Mascot for book editors everywhere

“Disappointing” doesn’t begin to cover it.

I used to write for Rachel and, before her, Marie Arana and Jabari Asim. Some time ago, friendly emails were routinely unanswered and phone calls dumped into some voicemail bucket.  I sensed that the section was under water – and the few bubbles that came up to the surface reinforced that impression.

While WaPo insists that it’s “not trimming coverage,” of course books will lose their chief advocate – an editor – and someone who has an overall vision of where they’d like to go.


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One Response to “Wow. Oh wow. Slash-and-burn time at The Washington Post Book World

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