(Terre) Haute Culture

The Times today had a quite predictable piece wringing hands over local newspapers getting rid of book critics and editors. A few things they didn’t say:

Most times, when I read local book reviews, I end up unimpressed. The Times tried to sniff at book bloggers, but lots of them are well written, considered, and passionate, and the lot of them together is more comprehensive. I’d say a paper would do well to link to the best of them.

And what makes book reviews necessarily local, unless the books are local? Do we need a review of Harry Potter from that unique Cleveland perspective? No. Just as movies and TV shows are not local, neither are most books.

Finally, the story goes after the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which “has recently eliminated the job of its book editor, leading many fans to worry that book coverage will soon be provided mostly by wire services and reprints from national papers.” But let me ask: In a time of shrinking newspaper revenue and budgets, which would you rather keep: a book editor or a local reporter or editor? You can now link to lots of book reviews — more than ever — but if the AJC doesn’t give you local reporting, who will? If it doesn’t give its readers local news and reporting, then what is its real value?

You have to love the open-minded curiosity of novelist Richard Ford, quoted at the end:

Mr. Ford, who has never looked at a literary blog, said he wanted the judgment and filter that he believed a newspaper book editor could provide. “Newspapers, by having institutional backing, have a responsible relationship not only to their publisher but to their readership,” Mr. Ford said, “in a way that some guy sitting in his basement in Terre Haute maybe doesn’t.”

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  • I may be biased, but I do agree there are good, honest reputable book review bloggers available on the Internet, and they should not be dismissed as unprofessional. Despite many writing reviews as volunteer ’employees’ or independently, what counts is that they are passionate book lovers whose objective views are penned with a high degree of skill – matching, if not better than, the quality of certain newspapers. Best of all they are written for free and therefore, you know they are coming from honest, and dedicated readers. One must never forget the importance of using these reviews and book blurbs in the media, this is particularly true of independent and self-published authors who are not lucky enough to have large amounts of money thrown at them (as the big named publishing companies have) for this purpose. In conclusion, I say linking to the ‘little people’ can be advantageous to both prospective book buyers and the authors. Please support them by supplying the coverage they deserve!

  • While I’m reluctant to second-guess one of our greatest living authors, such high-brow stereotyping of the blogger lacks understanding and gratitude for the contributions the blogosphere has made to the book industry, and to individual authors such as Mr. Ford.

  • Can we say ‘ivory tower?’ I expected better from Ford than THIS…

  • I agree with sassy-Actually, blog reviews are the best since these are real people doing real reviews. They tell it like it is. Is it a good read or not from the view of the average everyday person, not some snot that would not even consider reviewing a book unless it is published by the top five publishers. These people are losing touch and the sales records of the biggies proves this.

  • Katrina Stiles

    As one of many ‘review book bloggers’, as we have been referred to, I agree with both Sassy and Philip Harris. I am an avid reader, both for enjoyment and education. I review anywhere from 5-20 books per month. This is a volunteer position, one that I gladly raise my hand to do. As Sassy pointed out, not all authors have the fat wallets to pay to have their reviews done and/or published in high dollar papers, sites, etc. I have been doing this for nearly 3 years now and because I am the reader that will tell it like it is, good or bad, I don’t suck up to authors to get free books, and my reviewing history speaks for itself, I have authors that will only send their books to me. That speaks VOLUMES…no pun intended. My reviewing has led to editing jobs, which do pay but that was not my intention when I started this, nor is it my intention now. If one took the time to volunteer to read and review books from authors who are trying to make it, the education they will obtain is endless, and the entertainment bountiful. Quite frankly, being a consumer of books as well, I have to admit that I have read and reviewed MORE interesting books then I have found while shopping at the big name book stores. Our words count, they mean much and when we speak, we speak volumes!

  • Dr. C.P. Estés

    I’d like to comment as a published author, and a contributing editor to The Bloomsbury Review, a print bimonthly book review of nearly 30 years standing… and as a co-blogger at The Moderate Voice.

    I’m one of the ‘graying population,’ but/and I think bloggers are and will continue to be a most precious life’s blood for authors and publishers. More and more. The talent for reviewing books is a natural to the multiplicity of viewpoints found in the blogger universe. I hope for and expect good and great things to come from bloggers who love ideas and books.

    The fresh electronic viewpoint that sings is the mark of a blogger, not every line, but many lines, yes. The fresh electronic viewpoint that sings is worth a thousand dry pages that just lie there mumbling words and more words.

  • This morning, I completely mixed up the meaning of Jeff Jarvis’ Buzz Machine post, “(Terre) Haute Culture”. I not only missed the point, but overlooked the post’s interesting proposal, pretty much got it backwards, wrote a headline, a description, Dugg it and blogged it, attaching his name to my misunderstanding, ascribed to him views which have nothing to do with him. I fell far short of journalism, turned in a very poor effort at blogging.

    I’m sorry, Jeff. I’m sorry New York Times. I’ll try harder, do better.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, again, but I now, re-read the post to mean that local newspapers facing declining budgets would do well to focus their resources on local news reporting and consider providing their readers with non-localized book and media reviews through linking to selected bloggers.

    If this is close to the meaning of the post, I like the strategy. I like your “new rule for journalism” from an earlier post, “a new rule for journalism: do what you do best. Link to the rest.”

  • The book editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution who was so rudely put out to pasture had, well, an immeasurable impact on me… as a writer and as a blogger, for better or worse one could argue. A good editor is hard to find. I would know:

  • Two excellent points: (1) The world does not need a 200th (or 1,000th opinion) on Harry Potter or any other best-selling book or any other Hollywood movie. The local perspective is usually nonexistent in such reviews, so good riddance. (2) Reviewing is nice work if you can get it — but your newspaper needs reporters out in the community about 10,000 times more urgently than it needs your opinion about any mass-market product.

    Book bloggers (and movie bloggers) vary widely in quality — like all bloggers. There are some gems out there. But I wouldn’t say there’s any connection between the independent bloggers and the canned newspaper critics. Even if we did not have the bloggers, we would still have syndicated reviews of 99 percent of the stuff the canned critics would ever review.

    If they had been uncovering cool new novels and poetry and turning us on to interesting and obscure independent films, then I’d say we should shed a tear. But pack journalism of all kinds is just unnecessary. Cut out the duplication and focus on the original, the unique, the enterprising work of journalism.

  • jr

    Maybe some newspapers are taking pointers from a January 2006 posting by Jeff Jarvis titled “New News: Deconstructing the newspaper” where Jeff said :

    “Critics are luxuries. This is heresy for me, a former critic and creator of a magazine of criticism. But newspapers don’t all need their own movie, TV, and music critics. The movies are no different in Terre Haute than in New York. Lots of local critics are second-rate. And the truth is that the opinions of the audience matter at least as much as theirs. You can syndicate other critics or you can enable your audience to be the critic. If you’re going to continue to employ critics, concentrate on the uniquely local, like local bands, to help serve a different audience. Oh, and if you’re keeping a TV critic to report on new general managers at local TV stations nobody knew anyway, you’re wasting that money.”

    Terre Haute gets pub on this issue.

  • The Atlanta Journal Constituition is a sinking ship. They may as well turn it into a blog. The local reporting is all but gone. The only reason they had a book reviewer was because he could review for all Cox papers. But since ALL the papers are in trouble he was a luxury. They are not laying off AD SALES PEOPLE though.
    Local coverage is better served by blogs anyway. One of the best local political coverage, and the only one keeping an eye on the state capitals is http://www.Voic.us.

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