Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Is There a Dust-Off: Newspapers versus Lit Blogs?

Mokoto Rich of the New York Times examines the demise of the newspaper book review section and questions whether literary blogs can fill the void. While most bloggers quoted in the piece (Ed Champion, Maud Newton and Mark Sarvas) have long said that blogs provide an alternative, not a replacement for, book sections, author Richard Ford clearly misses the point:

“Of course literary bloggers argue that they do provide a multiplicity of voices. But some authors distrust those voices. Mr. Ford, who has never looked at a literary blog, said he wanted the judgment and filter that he believed a newspaper book editor could provide. “Newspapers, by having institutional backing, have a responsible relationship not only to their publisher but to their readership,” Mr. Ford said, “in a way that some guy sitting in his basement in Terre Haute maybe doesn’t.”

While there may be some irresponsible hacks out there pimping idiotic literature, most bloggers are hyper-responsible. After all it’s their name they are promoting day after day and forever on the Internet.

The difference between book review sections and literary blogs, as I see it, is personality. Traditional book reviews are more subdued and journalistic while posts on lit blogs tend to be opinionated and personal. Bloggers can rant and spew invective, but most don't. Instead they focus on things that fascinate them. Maud Newton writes a lot about Mark Twain, Mark Sarvas is a John Banville junkie. I write about the intersection of books, history, and journalism. Literary blogs are not for everyone, but can be fun to read.

CRITICAL MASS is running a series of interviews with book review editors as part of its campaign to call attention to the decline of these once-ubiquitous sections. The latest to hit the dust is at the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, where the book editor has been reassigned to other duties.

San Francisco Chronicle book editor Oscar Villalon relates the outrage of readers when its book section was temporarily folded into another section. It’s now a stand-alone, down from six to four pages on Sunday, but with more reviews throughout the week.

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