Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Decline of Literary Journalism

Even The New York Times Book Review is fading. To quote The Guardian:
The new editor is Pamela Paul, and quite unlike any before her. (I believe I can reel off all of them from the mid-seventies on without any effort … the columnist and reviewer John Leonard; the poet and editor Harvey Shapiro; one of the big newsroom bosses, Mike Levitas; followed by Times heavy, Rebecca Sinkler; then former New Yorker editor, Charles (Chip) McGrath; then Vanity Fair writer and Whitaker Chambers biographer Sam Tanenhaus.)

Paul has, pretty much, no writerly or literary credentials. She's written some straightforward, but non-literary nonfiction – a book about marriage, a book about parenting, and a book condemning pornography – and she's been the children's book editor at the Book Review for a short time. Her resume includes two years as a blogger at the Huffington Post, which, it doesn't seem entirely churlish to point out, is not a job, and a stint writing a column for the Times' Style section.

Anyway, it's a perfectly reasonable but not distinguished freelance journalism career. So why a major post in the world of literary journalism?

There is an untested assumption among some long time New York Times readers and among writers who measure their careers in the Book Review's pages that the NYTBR is quite a vital and even necessary part of the Times – that the identity of the New York Times is integrally related to higher culture and that there are few more important reflections of that high culture than the Times Book Review. But this, of course, is nonsense.

That day is gone. Only the awkwardness of admitting otherwise maintains the assumption of a necessary Book Review.

It quite simply has no ads. The entire newspaper is challenged by falling advertising, but the Book Review is really at the end of this road. Practically speaking, it has no revenue. (Read entire article.)

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