Tuesday, May 08, 2007

I read the news today, oh dear...

The debate around declining book review coverage has reached a point where it's hard to tell whose on what team.
There are newspapers that are still contemptuous of blogs even when blogs are doing better book review work, just as there are blogs that don't do much review work (this one).
The flash point in a long simmering story is the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, whose review page is the latest major American urban centre to cut or eliminate its book page.
This follows similar actions in other cities that means author tours aren't publicized, small press or first novels aren't mentioned, and the shallow pool loses more and more depth.
Of course, business models matter, but the side debate brewing here is that blogs have somehow become a cause for newspapers being in trouble.
By the way Richard Ford, you'll get no love from my bookselling corner for awhile:
Key graf here:
"Of course literary bloggers argue that they do provide a multiplicity of voices. But some authors distrust those voices. Mr. Ford, who has never looked at a literary blog, said he wanted the judgment and filter that he believed a newspaper book editor could provide. “Newspapers, by having institutional backing, have a responsible relationship not only to their publisher but to their readership,” Mr. Ford said, “in a way that some guy sitting in his basement in Terre Haute maybe doesn’t.”
I'm not suggesting (entirely) that newspapers are responsible for their own demise, but in book review terms, I can count on one hand, the number of regular reviewers I seek out in the print media.
I'll pay very close attention to Ron Charles, David Gilmour, Zsuzsi Gartner and a couple others, but Charles is the only full time critic on that short list.
Conversely, there are a great many blogs that I've looked to for years. I've said many times that in terms of sniffing out great books, Mark Sarvas is my favourite. TEV is a better read and a better taste maker than the Globe and Mail any day of the week.
This isn't about blogs vs. print media, rather a simple preference for quality.
Book reviews in print media are largely staid, safe affairs even when they aren't pulled off the wire.
The blog arena is more freewheeling, more irreverent, just more fun to read.
Most of the time, it's also got the necessary chops to play with the big kids, too.
If the old options are resistant to change, they're fighting a rear guard action.
A shame? Probably, but it's not like they were blown out of the water by a technological change or a demographic shift alone.
They're losing on quality and nerve, as well.
By all means, save the Atlanta Journal Constitution's book page.
The petition is here. Sign it.
But newspapers need to have the nerve to keep book culture alive by emulating the few good book review sections that are left, rather thank giving in to the current thinking of cutting everything fundamental to literacy just to sell a few more ads for Spiderman 3.
The British would call it penny wise and pound foolish.
BTW, the Guardian still towers over everyone.

Posted by Dave

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