Following the news that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has jettisoned its longtime book editor and replaced its book review section with canned wire copy, I'm glad to see that the National Book Critics Circle has organized an effort to save the section...as well as to send a message to other papers across the country that might be considering the same move in the name of cost-cutting.
I know book-section ads are down (and I know every newspaper in the country thinks the key to financial success is to offer readers less original content while charging them the same amount of money -- a unique business plan that's another rant entirely). Still, cutting out book reviews is a false economy. And a dumb idea. Why?
At a time when newspapers are trying to hang on to readers--not just people who read the paper, but people who are readers--getting rid of the one tiny specialty section of the paper geared toward people who read is spectacularly short-sighted. Most of the newspapers considering scaling back their book sections have already accepted the fact that local coverage is the one thing that television and the Net can't provide. (You don't notice too many ads in the Metro section--but that's another area of the paper that can't be duplicated effectively in any other medium. Yet.)
So why would any paper drop a locally written book-review section that focuses on its own singular community? That's an audience that's telling the editors loud and clear that it would rather get its news from the paper instead of from CNN or a blog. At a time when circulation numbers are giving stockholders migraines, why drive even more readers away?
The Atlanta books community is organizing a Thursday protest outside the Journal-Constitution's offices. I'll be interested to see what happens.