Thursday, May 19, 2005

Reflections On Steve Wasserman Leaving L.A. Times, And Changes On Editorial Board

Steve Wasserman was editor of the L.A. Times Book Review for eight and a half years, and has now departed to take a job with a New York literary agency. He will be missed, since; he accomplished a lot at the book review in terms of making it a more professional product. But under the circumstances, this is probably best for him.

There seems to be a natural length to such jobs, and when Wasserman found himself being second-guessed on what to include in the review and then discovered that he hadn't been told about some cutbacks of distribution of complimentary copies of the review to a list of 2,000 outsiders, it was obvious that he should look elsewhere.

I didn't always agree with the liberal bias of some of the reviews he commissioned, but Wasserman ran a good section. He had the courage to give reviewers enough space to make their arguments, and there were very few complaints about editing from his contributors. He ran a considerate staff.

Could the review write about more popular books, as associate Calendar editor Tim Rutten reportedly suggested to Wasserman. Perhaps, but whether this would necessarily lead to more readership is somewhat problematic. Wasserman may well have been right that the book review is going to appeal primarily to an intellectually sensitive group and not to the general readership.

Wasserman's friend, Narda Zacchino, now an editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, was kind enough to commission two articles in that newspaper about his departure. She could certainly empathize with Wasserman not being informed of changes affecting his work, because much the same thing had happened to her when she was at the L.A. Times, and the Tribune people came aboard. The change she eventually made, leaving the paper, certainly was the right thing for her to do, and we can hope this change will be beneficial to Wasserman.

Once top management starts going behind your back and making changes, like cutting the comp list, without so much as informing you, it's certainly time to go. But I'm not talking about Rutten here. He put his views on the line with Wasserman. In fact, the two were often good friends in their careers at the newspaper. Wasserman was very sympathetic with Rutten when he had his own reverses at the paper.

I reviewed books on earthquakes and occasionally other topics for the book review and also found Wasserman and his staff to be careful editors and nice to deal with.

The same may not be true of Michael Kinsley, editor of the editorial pages, who has just purged another five editorial writers, including the talented Alex Raksin, a Pultizer Prize winner, and Molly Selvin, sending them to other jobs at the Times.

Does Kinsley have good judgment? Almost never, in my view. The changes he has made in the editorial pages have been deplorable.

Who will he hire to replace those he has gotten rid of? More Easterners who don't understnad Los Angeles would be a reasonable guess.


Blogger shelly sloan said...

Ken, once again I call to your attention that you give John Carroll a total pass.

What is this love affair you have with this guy? He is the Editor, you know, the BOSS, the guy to whom all others report.

It is he who sets the policy, tone and steers the ship.

This is one more greivance to add to the list of errors at the Times. Add it to the fact that he hires and fires Sleepiong in Seattle Kinsley (although he doesn't seem to know how to fire him) and he sets the policy to call out and out murderers and terrorists in Israel by soft, nice names, like "militants" and "insurgents" and "freedom fighters".

No Ken, take off the blinders. A dead fish stinks from the head first.

It is John Carroll that has to go.

Or, should we wait for it to turn into "Howell Raines, redux"?

5/20/2005 1:07 AM  
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