It continues.

Critical Mass, the National Book Critics Circle's blog, reports that the Atlanta Journal Constitution has laid off its book editor (and former NBCC board member, Teresa Weaver.

NBCC president John Freeman writes that "Teresa has the opportunity to apply for a job within the company, but it's not clear what the fate of the book page will be -- whether it'll be reassigned to an existing editor, whether it will go entirely to wire copy, or whether it will be removed altogether."

In short, the AJC is following the model of The Dallas Morning News and other regional newspaper powerhouses (or former powerhouses): Gutting its arts coverage (not reported by the NBCC, the paper is also losing its film critic).

According to Publishers Weekly however, the AJC's books coverage won't be affected. Well, not exactly -- it won't be affected in any way that might actually interest people. When a literary publicist in Atlanta e-mailed a signed petition to the newspaper's editor, Julia Wallace, she received an automated response from Ms. Wallace that said, "We are not killing our book coverage or book pages.... We will be using freelancers, established news services and our staff to provide stories about books of interest to our readers and the local literary community."

Oh huzzah. One wonders why all of this wasn't done years ago, it sounds so splendid. The fact that this is an automated response says a great deal: It's just a cranked-out echo of the same bullshit spin that editor Bob Mong of The Dallas Morning News put on the cuts there (see below): "Mr. Mong was quoted by PW, saying that books coverage would not decrease and that the paper would love to see ad revenue from publishers to support that coverage."

As I pointed out, this is deliberately misleading while being technically correct. "The amount of space wouldn't decrease, but it would be filled by wire stories, a (small) number of freelancers and the remaining few writers stretched to cover fields beyond their expertise -- all of this representing a fundamental downshift in the quality of cultural reporting."

Think of it this way: Suppose the Journal Constitution or the News were to announce that they weren't cutting the space for their sports coverage at all, really, but all their sports columnists and reporters would get the axe while the reporting on the Braves or the Cowboys would now be done entirely through wire reports and freelancers. Imagine the shriveled nature of the product, the loss of regional input or flavor, the increasing dependency on a handful of "national" papers and wire services as more big-city papers do the same.

Readers wouldn't stand for it with sports franchises, of course. But newspaper editors feel they can do it not just with books but with cultural coverage across the board. The Dallas Morning News lost its arts editor, visual art critic, architecture critic, two TV critics, lead movie critic, pop music editor and restaurant critic. To this devastating loss, they responded by hiring a new restaurant critic. There's a statement about fundamental cultural values in Dallas: ritzy eats (restaurants provide far more ad revenue than books or theaters or dance companies). The remaining arts journalists, as I predicted, were just shuffled around and given new titles and more jobs. The Boston Herald has cut theater reviews. The LA Times has folded its books section into its op-ed section. And that's what's happening to book reviews in this country, no matter what gloss the Wallaces and Mongs try to put on it.

As Frank Wilson, the book editor of the Philly Inquirer once asked, why, when newspapers seek to make cuts, their first target is always those parts of the paper of most interest to serious readers?

But here's what you can do: Read and sign the petition.

April 19, 2007 7:11 PM | | Comments (2)



Bravo to you, Jerome, for speaking out against the AJC's misguided decision to axe its book editor. I join you in encouraging book lovers everywhere to express their anger by signing the NBCC petition at the Critical Mass blog. This madness must stop.


There are similar stories all over the US. I work in the arts trying to get a buzz going in Syracuse, NY, a small post-industrial city in the Northeast with some interesting recent growth. ...but how is growth to stand a chance at survival when the coverage in the media is cut back more every day? Here, the staff is just fading out and as they leave, each for personal reasons, they are not being replaced.

I don't mean to complain needlessly. Any "serious reader" feels this loss just as I do. However, I am in a position to push for change and I have a question as to which way to push. I've talked with local art critics about doing a symposium on this issue. Any suggestions as to an agenda that may effect change?



Best of the Vault


Pat Barker, Frankenstein, Cass Sunstein on the internet, Samuel Johnson, Thrillers, Denis Johnson, Alan Furst, Caryl Phillips, Richard Flanagan, George Saunders, Michael Harvey, Larry McMurtry, Harry Potter and more ...


Big D between the sheets -- Dallas in fiction


Reviewing the state of reviewing


9/11 as a novel: Why?


How can critics say the things they do? And why does anyone pay attention? It's the issue of authority.

The disappearing book pages:  

Papers are cutting book coverage for little reason

Thrillers and Lists:  

Noir favorites, who makes the cut and why



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