Sacramento columnist George Skelton opted out of the L.A. Times buyout at the last minute. But a more prominent name put himself on the list: longtime Pop Music Editor/Critic Robert Hilburn. Arguably the Times' best-known critic, Hilburn will continue to contribute pieces to Calendar (reportedly the lone buyout taker invited to stick around like that.) But he has a book agent in New York who is pushing him to get started on some projects. And the Times did offer a year's salary for veterans of his seniority to leave. Hilburn emails, "It's the best of both worlds - the chance to do the books and still be part of the Times family. I think the Times' increasing emphasis on the arts is going to make this an exciting place over the next few years."
Hilburn's first Times review ran Oct. 26, 1966, about a Hank Williams Jr. performance at the Long Beach Municipal Auditorium. He mostly wrote about country while a freelancer, then became the paper's first full-time staff pop critic in 1970. He has interviewed pretty much every rock legend since and had good access to Yoko Ono after John Lennon's murder. Fans and detractors will probably argue over Hilburn's legacy (and Bruce Springsteen fixation) at length as he slips toward his Jan. 16 changeover date. I've nothing smart to add, but here's an American Journalism Review piece from 2000 on older rock critics and Hilburn's praised interview last year with Bob Dylan on the art of songwriting. Can't find a pic online or I'd run it. (* Somebody sent one: That's Hilburn on the right receiving an award from former Times Editor John Carroll. 3:45 pm)