Susan Salter Reynolds and Richard Rayner will continue the book columns that the Los Angeles Times recently dropped in its cost-cutting of freelancers, writes Tom Lutz, editor in chief of the Los Angeles Review of Books. He uses the occasion to talk about the sorry state of newspaper books coverage and the loss of experience in media. Except:
Reynolds is a prime example of the new class of the gradually dis-employed: she has been writing succinct, insightful reviews for the Times for the last 23 years, usually three pieces a week, although often adding a fourth or even fifth in the form of a more in-depth review or feature (she is a woman who clearly does not sleep). For the first 21 of those years she was a staff writer, but for the last two she’s been a freelancer. The difference was a deep cut in pay, the loss of health insurance and a retirement plan, and the outsourcing of her office to her own house. The workload remained the same.
The agonizing death of print journalism, squeezed by investors into this deplorable state, has been one impetus for our project at the Los Angeles Review of Books. We hope we can eventually raise the money from foundations, private individuals, and advertising to reemploy at least a few of the people who have been washed out to sea by the seemingly unending waves of firings and cutbacks in the print world. This week we were very happy and proud to have Salter’s “Discoveries” and Rayner’s “Paperback Writers” columns move to our pages. We are not yet paying them anything near what they’re worth, but we hope that our mixed business model — part e-commerce, part nonprofit grant writing and fundraising — can eventually prevail, that we will create an institution that bucks the trend of professional writers writing for free on the internet.
The layoffs in the newspaper and magazine world cause enormous harm to our friends and colleagues, but the tragedy for American culture as a whole is more profound. We are losing access to great swaths of knowledge and proficiency. Few people alive have read as many books as Reynolds, Rayner, and Bolle. Then there are the thousands and thousands of jobless journalists around the country, people with decades of experience in foreign relations, arts coverage, politics, environmental issues, economics, all forced to find other work — this is a loss no amount of updating to Wikipedia can ever redress.
The new L.A. Review of Books, for the moment just online, plans to add more columnists and other content, Lutz says, but so far has "raised about 10% of what we need to in order to do this well."