According to today's electronic edition of Publishers Weekly, a former newspaper staffer says that the Los Angeles Times is planning to discontinue its stand-alone book review section. Instead, book reviews will run in the Calendar section.
As a former reporter who watched a venerable newspaper slowly shed skin after skin (I still miss Tropic, the Sunday magazine in The Miami Herald!) in the wake of poor circulation and shrinking budgets, I can't claim to be surprised. But having lived in Los Angeles for almost three years now, making the Times my new home-town paper, I feel my bubble of denial bursting. Newspapers as I knew them are shrinking. Even vanishing.
It's not that the Los Angeles Times will stop reviewing books, although it's hard to imagine how space would not be more limited under the new format. And I know that every newspaper story has a longer life because of online archives and a web-based readership--I read the New York Times online myself. The irony of learning the news from an electronic newsletter is not lost on me; times are changing. But there was something truly comforting about having physical access to a newspaper that dedicated a pullout section to the love of good literature.
As a former newspaper staffer, I also know the gloom in the newsroom that surrounds the loss of a newspaper's tradition. Sleepless nights. Inability to concentrate. Stomachaches. Rounds of layoffs. Yes, corporate America is all business--nothing personal, as Michael Corleone would say. But it's difficult for any employees to separate their emotions from their jobs...and I dare say it's a special challenge when that job is creative. Reporters are asked to share their hearts each day, and that collective snapshot makes up a newspaper page. (A story is most often special because of the WAY it is told.)
The marriage of art and commerce is always prickly, but in newspapers it's a dep challenge for the writers. When a reporter is lucky, he or she can find a paying job that fulfills the itch to tell stories and follow one's bliss as a writer (or close enough, anyway) without having to sacrifice a regular paycheck and health care. I left my newspaper ten years ago to begin a life with my new husband and write novels full-time--and while I don't miss the deadlines or the politics, I do miss my co-workers. Fine writers all.
And I miss the security. I am more creative when I feel secure, and always have been.
When failing newspapers crumble, reporters flee to higher ground--like, say, the Washington Post. Or the Los Angeles Times.
The Times is one of the few large newspaper islands left. It's sad to see another piece breaking off with the tide.