Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 22, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

LAT BOOKS....I missed this last week when it was first announced, but apparently the LA Times' Sunday book review section is being axed. Very sad. What used to be a great national newspaper is well on its way to becoming just another struggling metro daily.

Kevin Drum 11:31 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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Always good when newspapers let ya know that reading's not important...

Posted by: EastFallowfield on July 22, 2008 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK

The LA Times is owned by the Tribune Company, which is also cutting staff at the Chicago Tribune. The Trib is also cutting the downstate print editions; the real shame of that cut is the fact that the Trib had the best coverage of Illinois state capitol news. Some aspects of the transition from old media to new media are good--new media is all over national and international news, but so far new media hasn't really put much effort into state and local news coverage.

Posted by: Lifelong Dem on July 22, 2008 at 11:38 AM | PERMALINK

What percentage of the population in LA can actually read English well enough to be able to enjoy the type of novels or non-fiction books that are reviewed in Sunday Newspapers.

I think that most newspapers forgot that the first need of a newspaper is a customer base that can actually.

While the LA Times was supporting open borders and unlimited immigration, I wonder if any of their editors realized that illegal aliens and barrios dwellers do not read English Language newspapers?

Posted by: superdestroyer on July 22, 2008 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

I don't mean to be unsympathetic, Kevin, but now you know what Chicagoans have suffered for years. Sam Zell is only speeding up what was a long-term process.

I think that most newspapers forgot that the first need of a newspaper is a customer base that can actually.

Delicious irony there.

Posted by: shortstop on July 22, 2008 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

Superdestroyer's comment reminds me that 'tendentious' comes from the Latin verb 'to stretch'.

Maine, doubtless because it too is reeling under the influx of illegal Hispanic immigrants, is watching its flagship newspaper shrink, with the Portland Press Herald closing its Augusta bureau, and relying on the wire services for state house coverage.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on July 22, 2008 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

I wonder how much online reviews of books, in particular Amazon's, have impacted the function of traditional newspaper book reviews, which aren't as in-depth as say the New York Review of Books and aimed more towards a mass audience? I'd suspect a lot.

Posted by: David W. on July 22, 2008 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

The LA Times actually tried to have a Spanish Language insert but the upper middle class white editor forgot that most of the Hispanics in Souther California are no more literate in Spanish than they are in English.

To correct my previous post and to put into a form that should be understandable to most of the people living in the Los Angeles Times distribution area:

Pienso que la mayoría de los periódicos olvidaron que la primera necesidad de un periódico es una base de clientes que puede leer realmente

Posted by: superdestroyer on July 22, 2008 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

Having cut my teeth on the Sunday NYTBR, it was a minor shock to see how small the Trib's book review was--maybe 8 books, including children's, and various fluff and puff.
One sure tell is when the book jacket or author picture is more than 1/3 of the review box. The Detroit Free Press does this: one main review, in that 3/3's format, two squibs under it about 200 words and a side column of audio books or genre notices.
You can also tell when the ed's throwing beer money to one of the staff when one of the copy editors knocks off a review.
Oddly enough, the Flint Journal went from that to a page of substantial reviews off the wire with at least one serious non-fiction title in the mix.

Posted by: Steve Paradis on July 22, 2008 at 12:05 PM | PERMALINK

Yep, because closing sections of the paper will increase profits!

Capitalism at its best - merely making a profit every year isn't enough.

Posted by: Crissa on July 22, 2008 at 12:12 PM | PERMALINK

Is this not the newspaper which pays Jonah Goldberg money to do that thing that he does?

Posted by: W. Kiernan on July 22, 2008 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

The SF Chronicle killed its Sunday magazine this month, announcing that it would become a monthly. We will see how long that lasts.

And yesterday, the formerly separate Technology section (a Monday regular) appeared in the back of the Sports section. Today's paper was amazingly thin.

Newspapers everywhere are getting hammered financially, it has nothing to do with immigrants or the Spanish language as naively suggested above, it's happening everywhere. I read most of the SF paper on the web before I go out to get the print copy thrown at the steps.

Posted by: Spike on July 22, 2008 at 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

This is very sad. LAObserved.com is covering the destruction of the Times very well. The thing is, the Times is still very profitable, it's just not turning the kind of profit to save Zell's stupidly leveraged purchase of Tribune.

I propose that all it will take to buy back the Times is for only 2,000 interested citizens of L.A. and the country agree to form some kind of co-operative and each invest $1-2k into it and grab the Times back from the brink.

Either that or Broad or Geffen or somebody (Candy Spelling, even?) must help.

So, sad.

Posted by: miles on July 22, 2008 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK


Two other problems for large urban newspapers is the consolidation of Department Stores. When every mall has the same Macy's there are fewer whole page ads. Also, big box stores like Wal-Mart only use inserts. Inserts do not generate the same level of revenues. Of course, E-Bay and Craig's list have hurt newspapers due to loss of classified ads.

But in the long run, a diverse, multi-ethnic population where most people feel to attachment to their local community is just not going to support a newspaper.

The internet does not have much effect because the people who read analog newspapers read digital newspapers. The problem is that more people do not read any type of news.

Posted by: superdestroyer on July 22, 2008 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK


Posted by: mhr on July 22, 2008 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

shortstop hit the nail on the head.

Posted by: reino on July 22, 2008 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

The thing about book reviews is that unless the book in question has a local angle, there's no reason why the reviews have to be done in a particular geographic location. Further, from the point of view of a given newspaper-buying population, it's not necessarily obvious that in-depth book reviews are an integral part of the product they are buying. (i.e. the actual audience for book reviews is probably a small sliver of the number of people who buy any issue of the paper. Probably not because they are hispanic, but because most people don't read that much.)

In the days before internet everywhere, it made sense to aggregate a wide variety of content, imprint it on dead trees, and physically deliver it to many locations. But these days the rationale for a large general-interest daily publication is dissolving, particularly one printed on paper. The daily as we have known it is dying, and as it winds down it'll shrink its focus to things only it can do. Nonlocal special interest content will split off. High-end book reviews will move to the places they make sense, which won't be in the pages of your local daily.

Posted by: jimBOB on July 22, 2008 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

As a footloose twenty-something living on my own, I devoured Sunday newspapers -- both Chicago papers and the New York Times. I had my booth at the coffee shop; they knew my order; I had my papers.

It was great.

Now, as a footbound forty-something, I can't remember the last time I bought a Sunday paper. Aside from the pressures of kids, it's just hard to justify an entire morning spent with newsprint, especially when (a) I got more newsy news on the internet, (b) I skimmed the book review online on Saturday, and (c) don't read the comic strips anymore.

I don't know that this says as much about the LA Times as it does about the media market generally.

Once, there wasn't a popular newsprint press. Then there was. Now there won't be. The business model just doesn't work the way it did.

Classifieds? Craigslist. EBay.

Personals? eHarmony.

News? CNN, Fox, Washington Monthly, CNBC, HuffPost, Drudge, ThinkProgress, Reuters RSS, AP RSS.

Newsstands? iPhones, BlackBerries.

The newspaper was an important part of the American landscape.

Then it wasn't.

There, I said it.

Oh, and to Mr. LA-is-dumb-Weisenheimer, per capita Los Angeles consumes more books than New York.

So put that in yer pipe and smoke it.

Posted by: Hemlock for Gadflies on July 22, 2008 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

Now that I think about it, there is one reason to rue the loss of the LA Times Book Review section -- the UCLA/LA Times book fair every summer.

Posted by: Hemlock for Gadflies on July 22, 2008 at 1:08 PM | PERMALINK

mhr: When these mush-brained individuals get challenged by an idea they don't agree with, they simply resort to scatology and/or cursing. To them that is being grown-up.

Bullshit, you drooling moronic fuckwit. It is perfectly acceptable to use profanity when describing an obscenity. Those words exist in every language for a reason. Sometimes strong language is necessary, when situations are downright fucking deplorable to a criminal god-damned extent.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State on July 22, 2008 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

Here's another thing to think about: Most book-review sections in newspapers (including the NYT) are crap.

Let's start off with the Times's lesser brethren: They run mediocre, boring reviews long after every educated person has heard about the book.

And the NYT does the same thing. The reviews come out months after educated people have already read about and heard about an important book. They have very few reviews. Their reviews are usually just dumb recaps, like someone's homework assignment in eighth grade, "What I Read Last Night In a Book About Louis XVI." And they usually assign either mediocre hacks to do reviews, or some sort of "stunt writer" whose name applied to a review of a certain subject or title will, the NYT thinks, create a "frisson."

If you want intelligent reviews, try the English "Literary Review" or the "Times Literary Supplement" (despite the fact that the latter WILL NOT REMOVE MY NAME FROM THEIR MAILING LIST DESPITE FIVE YEARS OF REQUESTS AND THREATS FROM THE UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE).

The "Literary Review" really is a wonder, and there are the often superb cartoons on the cover by Chris Riddle.

Or just read the blurbs in your public library's copy of Publishers Weekly. It's better and more informative than any issue of the NYT Book Review.

(Sometimes...oka-a-ay...Michiko Kakutani is worth reading in the daily paper. But sometimes she's just your typical knee-jerk snotty book reviewer.)

Posted by: Anon on July 22, 2008 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

The "liberal press", well at least I got a good laugh today!!! Can't believe that there are idiots still spouting that. Well we do have the Star-Telegram in Texas that had Molly Ivins as one of thier "opinion" writers, but then we have at least 6 other newspapers in this state with no "liberal" writers to speak of. Most of the american newspapers I read online have either a mix of liberal and conservative writers on thier opinion page or have majority conservative writers with a liberal thrown in about once a month.

But then I have had people of the rightwing yell "liberal press" at me when I was quoting the Wall Street Journal, Scientific America, and twice "The Petroleum News". Little did I know that the Wall Street Journal was the bastion of the liberal press. But then George Bush claimed that the U.S. Census Bureau was a liberal conspiracy trying to make him look bad when they printed census data. (He claimed that there were no poor people in Texas because he had never seen them, unfortunately, the census bureau didn't agree.)

Guess if the facts disagree with your ill-concived opinions/beliefs then it is the "liberal press" at fault.

Posted by: MG on July 22, 2008 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

My all-time fav book review:
Hello, this is Tom Clancy. Would I say, "If you're hunting for a good read this October, Marge Simpson's book is a clear and present danger to your free time"? Hell no I wouldn't. What do you mean I just said it? That doesn't count! Hello. Hello?

Posted by: marge on July 22, 2008 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

As a newspaper editor at my day job (suburban Dallas weekly), I offer several thoughts.

David W., I think Amazon's had a pretty strong impact on newspaper book reviews. How strong, I don't know.

Steve Paradis is right... most papers have the attitude that, why do reviews in-house when you can get them off the wire? Ditto for movies. Here, the Dallas Morning News canned most their critics 3-4 years ago, after it got in trouble for inflating circ numbers, thereby having to cut rebate checks to a bunch of advertisers.

If it's local interest books, you cut a freelancer a check for $20 plus the glory of his byline in the LAT, the DMN or whatever, as far as reviews.

As far as overall paper struggles, remember Cali papers are getting kicked in the 'nads by the real estate collapse. Foreclosures tend not to generate a lot of ads. While a lot of big dailies are struggling, California and South Fla. papers are struggling more.

Hemlock my doppelganger has several good points. Re Craigslist, it's actually hurt alt-weeklies more than seven-day dailies? Why? Craig's runs the more "racy" personals ads, etc., that used to be gravy for alt-weeklies because dailies wouldn't touch them.

Next? Look for Craig's to try to get official legal notices by local governments wrestled away from print newspapers.

Bottom line?Community newspapers in conservative rural white America may have the best future.

Kevin, has Zell found any buyers for the LAT corporate building yet?

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on July 22, 2008 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

One more item on newspapers as a business enterprise.

Newspapers have traditionally generated profit margins as much as 30 percent at major dailies. It’s not that they’re unprofitable now, just that they’ve become less profitable, and in many cases, one-quarter to one-third less profitable.

But, your corner grocer would love even a 15 percent return.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on July 22, 2008 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

What about the consequences of newspaper death from an employment perspective? Where will journalism majors get a job? How will journalism departments justify themselves if print media is dying? Where will former journalists and solons go to sprinkle color for editorial pages in their dotage?

I think most laypeople who still read assume pros will churn out news on the internet like the past. But what happens when mags and rags take their press passes out of circulation, and pols refuse to talk to anyone with just a burning curiosity? I also wonder if think tanks and other nonprofits benefit from this even more? Is the media world becoming more populist, but the think tanks more elitist, and the gap in the middle yawning even wider?

Finally, if anyone misses the print book review, bhTV regularly features video "diavlogs" with new authors who can then talk for 45-60 minutes about their book. Reviews can't beat that, and it's even more convenient than a lecture. Of course, no book signings! But then again, I read e-books as much as is possible!

Posted by: Baltimoron on July 22, 2008 at 9:41 PM | PERMALINK

I've been watching the Trib destroy the Baltimore Sun for quite some time. Sun writers are taking buyouts and fleeing for the internets.

Welcome to my world.

Posted by: howie on July 23, 2008 at 8:53 AM | PERMALINK


In a city where most of the high school students read at the 3-5th grade levels (See HBO's ard Times at Douglass High) who is a newspaper suppose to survive. I doubt that the failures at Douglas High School are reading the news on the internet anymore than they are reading the Baltimore Sun.

The demographics of Balitmore just cannot support a large, metropolitan newspaper anymore. Where are the future readers suppose the come from, the private schools where the white Democratic leadership send their children?

Posted by: superdestroyer on July 23, 2008 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

And yet, Jonah still has a job.

[insert sound of head-scratching]

Posted by: bartkid on July 23, 2008 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK
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