In mid August, New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet announced in a note to staff that New York Times Book Review editor Pamela Paul would oversee all Times books and publishing industry coverage. Two weeks later, how exactly this move might change coverage is beginning to come to light.
“The question about whether to keep [the Book Review] separate has been around for a long time,” Paul told PW, adding that the Sunday Book Review has been a separate operation from the paper itself since 1896—a holdover from English tradition, where the Sunday edition of a newspaper has typically been completely separate from other operations. But in recent times, the Book Review was an anomaly at the Times; other Sunday operations, she continued, like the Real Estate section, have always been part of the whole. “That era is over, and the newsroom is united in print and digital throughout the week, 24/7.”
Part of the trouble of having separate operations meant separate coverage, with multiple teams focusing on roughly the same things. Now, Paul will oversee a newly-created Books desk, folding in critic Michiko Kakutani and the other book reviewers from the Arts section, Dwight Garner and Jennifer Senior; publishing industry reporter Alexandra Alter (whose prior work was part of the Business section); and the Book Review itself. As a result of the change, Kakutani, for instance, a mainstay of the Arts section, could end up writing something for the Book Review.
Another result of the realignment is that reviews appearing in both the weekday Times and the Book Review—while not necessarily eliminated entirely—will be rarer. “There will probably be less duplication, but there may be some between daily critics and Sunday critics,” Paul said. That said, there will no longer be any instances of two freelancers reviewing the same books—which, considering that the bulk of the Book Review is written by freelancers, has happened before.
Freelancers, Paul added, will continue to supply the bulk of the Book Review's contents, and will also handle daily coverage should an author with an affiliation with the Times publish a book meriting a review, for sake of avoiding conflicted interests. Peer book reviews, with authors (including, Paul noted, Stephen King and Heidi Julavits) reviewing the works of other authors, will continue to play a role in review coverage. "Those two kinds of reviews are both of value and both core strengths of the Times," she said, "and we definitely will not cut back on them."
Other changes readers can expect to see include a "vast" expansion of online books coverage, along with a more "international approach" to the industry and to reading in general. "I always think it’s interesting to know what’s been read in Russia, for example," Paul said. “What people read tells us a lot about a culture and changes going on in that culture.”
Paul also placed a heavy emphasis on books coverage outside of the traditional review structure. "In the past, and at the Book Review specifically, when a book came in, we had one question: Does this review merit a book review or not?" she said. "And I think that’s a very limited question." The new question, she continued, was to ask if a book merits coverage—and if so, what kind? Is it a fit for print, or for digital? The idea is to make books coverage more interesting and relevant for readers by thinking beyond just the print edition.
Otherwise, readers should expect much of the same coverage. Daily reviews will remain within the Arts section, and book reviews written for the Sunday section will not appear in the daily Arts section. Paul also reiterated that there are no plans to kill the print edition of the Book Review (as had been rumored and vigorously denied by the Times). Readers can be assured that, while aesthetic changes may roll out in the Book Review in time, it will remain a distinct entity. Reflecting that, Paul's title will remain the same in spite of her expanded role.
Paul's takeaway? “On any given day, digitally and in print, readers of the New York Times can expect more book coverage.”