In a New York Observer piece today about the pending demise of the NYT's Saturday Arts and Ideas section, LAT Book Review editor Steve Wasserman reveals he had discussions in 1996 about running the then-new section. He broke off the talks, Wasserman says, and ended up feeling the section lacked direction.
[Wasserman] said the original idea for Arts & Ideas was to track the "epiphenomena" in the culture that produced, say, a photographer like Robert Mapplethorpe—before the story became a legislative one about curtailing funding to the National Endowment for the Arts for sponsoring erotic work like Mapplethorpe’s.
"The Times became seized with the notion that ideas have consequences. The idea was to report the ideas even before the consequences are made palpable in a political sense; it seemed to me enlightened," Mr. Wasserman said. Whether the section lived up to its promise is another question entirely. "I think it did fitfully do so, but it increasingly seemed rudderless," he added. "Early on in the first year and a half of its life, I knew a fair number of writers who turned to it with enthusiasm. After that, it was ever less relevant."
NYU journalism profesor Jay Rosen agreed: "I never felt it had a very strong identity. I could never figure out what the idea was..."