LAT books, science (and sports?) take hits

Today is departure day for some of the Los Angeles Times staffers who were laid off this week or who retired and/or took buyouts. Arts reporter Suzanne Muchnic sent a brief farewell message to the newsroom this morning — "Saying goodbye is hard to do. Sending my new e-mail address is easy..." Assistant book editor Orli Low's note this afternoon was a bit longer:

Words cannot describe my feelings, both upon entering this place in those first few days of working here and upon leaving it today. It's really hard to leave the best job you can imagine, but I do so knowing that those who pre-deTimes-ed me and those still here fighting the good fight are among the finest and most talented people there are. I have enjoyed every last minute of it and wish you all only the best.

Her exit, and that of longtime book section writer Susan Salter Reynolds, appears to leave only editor David Ulin and deputy Nick Owchar in what used to be the Book Review pod, plus Jacket Copy blogger Carolyn Kellogg.

On the science desk, the exit via layoff of John Johnson leaves — at least for now — plenty of health and medical writers, but no reporters with hard science as a specialty. It's probably the first time since the pre-Otis Chandler era that the Los Angeles Times has not dedicated a spot to a science writer, and a far cry from just a few years ago when the paper had nationally prominent writers Robert Lee Hotz, K.C. Cole, Usha Lee McFarling and Thomas Maugh. (Maugh remains but writes mostly about health.) It's a stark reminder of the fields where the L.A. Times used to be a journalism leader and now is minor league, even on major local topics like earthquakes, space and high technology research. A year ago this month, Editor Russ Stanton folded science into the health desk. Correction: Karen Kaplan, a converted Business section reporter, has been covering science since 2005.

Sports too?: When ESPN Los Angeles debuts Monday, its team is expected to include LAT Lakers bloggers Andrew and Brian Kamenetzky and the Times' Dodgers blogger Jon Weisman, according to the website The Big Lead. Along with former LAT columnist J.A. Adande and others reportedly hired by ESPN, the site says "It might not take long for to challenge the LA Times and LA Daily News. The Times will still have Plaschke and Simers setting the agenda, but the ESPNLA group should blow away the competition in the online department."

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