The San Francisco Chronicle swoops in with two pieces on Steve Wasserman's departure (which becomes official today) from the editorship of the Los Angeles Times Book Review. In the newsfeature story, reporter Heidi Benson looks on as Wasserman cleans out his office, packing up 13,000 books in a personal library that was stored at the paper during his tenure. He professes pride in his time there:
I have done everything that I set out to accomplish. I have successfully reinvented the review. I tried to publish the review with passion and zeal as if the very culture of L.A., of the newspaper, of the city itself were at stake.
Mike Davis mostly lauds ("...most exciting book review section in the country") but Digby Diehl and Tod Goldberg are more critical. The story says the seeds of Wasserman's leaving were planted last October when the Times suddenly stopped sending comps of the Sunday book review to his list of nearly 2,000 literary figures and influential contacts. "I learned about it from the guy in the mailroom," Wasserman says.
The story doesn't touch higher-up displeasure with the review or Wasserman's complaints about his independence. It comes out that he resigned on March 24, but kept the decision quiet until after the Times Festival of Books last month: "I needed to open up a new chapter in my life."
There's no new ground on the search for a successor, just this from Deputy Managing Editor John Montorio: "We are just beginning to sort through a field of intriguing applicants. It's obviously a coveted position, and many impressive folks already have thrown their hats in the ring -- inside and outside the paper." Some in the newsroom believe the leading insiders are Tom Curwen, who edits the Outdoors section and used to be Wasserman's second, and Nick Goldberg, who edits the op-ed page.
Also, Chronicle book critic David Kipen writes of Wasserman, "In retrospect, Steve was neither the carpetbagger from New York his detractors made him out to be, nor the savior from the East that too many of his defenders claimed. No, he was just a guy putting out a section every week with everything -- and I mean everything -- he had." Kipen gives a spirited defense of newspaper book sections, and says they can help papers face the challenge of blogs and the Internet:
Smart newspapers are providing more informed opinion with their news, not less. A good book review should, at least in theory, be the most unapologetically opinionated section in the paper. Rather than sweating a little online second-guessing from the Net, a smart book section would do better to supplement its print edition with some kind of rip-roaring online clearinghouse of ideas.
It was a no-brainer that Kipen would comment on the end of the Wasserman era (and a surprise that I'm mentioned), but why the newsfeature? I don't know, but perhaps Chronicle top editor Narda Zacchino played a role. She started the Festival of Books while a senior Times editor, and may even have hired Wasserman at the review, I don't remember for certain. Wasserman's first job at the Times was as the assistant to her husband, Robert Scheer (then a staff writer, now a non-staff columnist.)