NYT Consolidates Book Coverage

A recent NY Post story has us on high alert for possible changes to the last standalone newspaper review section in the country, the New York Times Sunday Book Review.

The Post claimed management was considering turning it into a digital-only publication, a change that has signaled the death knell for other such publications. The NYT editor in charge of a “strategic review” of the paper immediately dismissed that as “crazy talk.”

Pamela Paul, NYT Photo Credit: Earl Wilson, The New York Times, April, 2012

Pamela Paul, NYT
Photo Credit: Earl Wilson,
The New York Times,
April, 2012

But there was something afoot. Yesterday, the NYT announced that  all book coverage, including Sunday and daily book reviews, as well as publishing news, will now be under the direction of the Editor of the New York Times Sunday Book Review, Pamela Paul.

Until now, daily reviews and the Book Review have been separate, with separate reporting structures and approaches, making them virtually sister publications. Daily coverage is handled by a group of three regular critics, Michiko Kakutani, Dwight Garner and Jennifer Senior, with occasional contributions by Janet Maslin who retired last year.

On the other hand, the editors of the Sunday section do not act as critics, but as assigning editors, selecting titles to be reviewed and selecting writers to cover them. In some cases, the reviewers are celebrity authors, like Michael Connelly who reviews Caleb Carr’s new book on the cover of this week’s issue. In other cases, they are scholars or authors of similar books to those under review, a practice that has been regarded as open to both professional jealousies and back-scratching.

In a memo to staff about the change, NYT Executive Editor Dean Baquet calls Paul “one of our biggest stars.” That star has had a fast rise at the Book Review. In 2011, she was named the Children’s Book Editor. Just two years later, she took over as Editor, when Sam Tanenhaus left to become a writer-at-large.

According to the memo, Paul will be responsible not only for book coverage, but for recommending changes in direction. It appears that shutting down the Book Review is off the table:

It will be Pamela’s job to think about how our coverage should change and, of course, how it should not change. (We will, for instance, maintain our Sunday Book Review. It is hard to imagine the paper without it.) Above all, we believe we have a significant opportunity to expand the audience for our books coverage.

Also off the table is shutting down daily coverage:

And I want to make clear that under Pamela’s leadership, books and book reviews will be a consistent and significant part of The Times’s daily culture report.

One change is already in the works, under a single reporting structure, coverage can be coordinated to decide “which books are so important they deserve both a daily and a Sunday review” rather than that happening, as it has to date, by coincidence.

There is still reason to be concerned about the NYT‘s book coverage. Consolidation rarely results in expanded coverage. Most often, it goes the other direction.

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