When the San Francisco Chronicle and San Jose Mercury News were imploding a year ago, I wrote extensively about the layoffs and the damage the downsizing would do to local news coverage.
Well, the newspaper business has only gotten worse since then, with draconian cuts at papers around the country almost a weekly occurrence. At some point I made the conscious decision not to follow the news on my blog. It was too depressing to dwell on the collapse of an industry I had so eagerly joined in 1984.But I can’t stay silent anymore about what is happening to the Los Angeles Times, one of the country’s best newspapers. A lot has been written about how the new owner Sam Zell has insulted reporters throughout the former Tribune chain and how he instituted a byline count as a way to determine which reporters to fire. While he was once regarded as a savior from the Tribune company, he is now regarded as a loose – and dangerous – cannon.
But I have to speak up about the decision to fold the Los Angeles Times Book Review section. Apparently, this Sunday will be the last time the book review will stand alone. In August, book reviews will be folded into the Calendar section.
This is a travesty. The Times book review is one of the most interesting sections in the country. Its reporters, like Josh Getlin, who was laid off, consistently produced excellent glimpses into the world of authors and publishers. As the writer and lawyer Daniel Olivas observed, the Book Review created an intellectual framework for a city that is better know for its vapid pursuit of looks and glamour than discourse and discussion. It’s influence was even broader than just in
And I have a personal regret. My book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, deals extensively with the development of
My subject isn’t sexy or glamorous or even timely. But it has merit and it makes a contribution. The demise of the Book Review and other book sections in the country means a lessening of information, a truncation of the exchange of ideas that don’t always fit into the current celebrity-crazed marketplace.
My forthcoming book is only one of thousands coming out. If the Book Review is going from six stand-alone pages a week to a smattering of reviews in the Calendar section, how many books will go uncovered? It’s already exceedingly difficult to get a book reviewed; now it will be that much harder.
I hope that Sam Zell and his minions reconsider their decision and let David Ulin, the editor of the Book Review, and his cadre of reviewers continue creating one of the most interesting public intellectual centers in Los Angeles.