Susan Salter Reynolds was with the Times for 23 years as both a staffer and freelancer and wrote the “Discoveries” column that appeared each week in the Sunday book review. She was told that her column was cancelled and will not be replaced by another writer. “I don’t know where these layoffs fit into the long-storied failure at the Times,” she said yesterday, “but these are not smart business decisions. This is shabby treatment.”
Jon Thurber, editor of the book review, explained to Reynolds last Thursday that all books-related stories will now be done in-house, and that the decision to cease eliminate non-staffers was based on his freelance budget being cut. Richard Raynard’s popular “Paperback Writers” has also been eliminated. As children’s books editor at the Times for the last several years Sonja Bolle, who most recently wrote the monthly “WordPlay” column, said, “This indicates an even deeper contraction of the business, a continuation of a process at the Times that doesn’t stop here.” Bolle is most concerned about the shrinking coverage of children’s books. “This is a great loss for readers,” she said of the elimination of her column.
Needless to say, this is awful both from a “quality of book review coverage” angle and as a way of treating writers.
And as to the former, one truly wonders if Times VP of communications Nancy Sullivan really thinks that the quality of book coverage won’t suffer by filling the blanks with “staff writers from outside the book department.” Because, of course, book reviewing is an unskilled trade that can be done by any old person who can string a few words together.