Monday, April 16, 2007

Powell's Books, Ex-Film Critics, The Future of Newspapers?

Hate to see a listserv post go to waste, so here's a note that I shared with participants in the Hemingway discussion group ...

Powell's City of Books is a great place, at least from what I've gathered by wandering around their first-rate web site --replete with reviews, interviews and other features -- and reading about the store.

I just happened to be talking about Powell's on Saturday, with an acquaintance (former Tampa Tribune film critic Greg Tozian) visiting Tampa from Portland, home of Powell's. And on Sunday morning I noticed a piece on Portland in the Travel section of the New York Times -

Writes David Laskin: "Powell's City of Books ... is one of the city's prime attractions - a store so big that it provides maps. The dusty, well-lighted store is larger than many libraries, with 68,000 square feet of new and used books."

When I finally take my long hoped-for trip to the Pacific Northwest, I'll have to hit Powell's, and a coffee shop or two.

Another source for book buys is Abe Books -- I've had great experiences ordering from that site over the years.

(And now free-connecting beyond my original note)

And while we're on the subject of former Tampa Tribune film critics -- I was sorry to see longtime movie critic Bob Ross (21 years) lose his job last week. Several other writers and other staffers, including longtime features columnist Judy Hill (19 years) and veteran reporter Jim Tunstall, were let go in their newspaper's latest round of cutbacks. Here's the Weekly Planet's report on the carnage; and here's what the St. Pete Times had to say.

Bob is a longstanding member of the Florida Film Critics Circle and the Southeastern Film Critics Association, and he also contributed reviews to WFLA 970-AM and News Channel 8. A point that high-level editors and publishers often don't seem to grasp when making these kinds of decisions: Bob's kind of experience/expertise/credentials can't easily be replaced, if at all. Generic wire reviews will never be a good substitute for a locally based reviewer, one with whom local readers can agree, disagree and actually reach on the phone to converse about movies.

Here's Judy's goodbye column.

Seems strange that any news organization would want to dismantle the hard-won points of connection between its readers/viewers and high-profile reporters and writers who have developed large followings over the years. My guess is that these kinds of decisions are demoralizing to career journalists, damaging to a news organization's credibility and relationship with the community and, ultimately, hurtful to a news organization's financial bottom lines. Am I wrong?

But, hey, what do I know? The paradigm -- to use an academic word -- for journalism seems to be evolving minute by minute. Who knows what newspapers will look like, or even if they'll exist (aside from a few major national papers) in recognizable form a decade from now?

Check out this section from a piece that appeared little more than a year ago at

"Newspapering is a big business in the United States – $60 billion a year – but for years that number has been shrinking. The layoffs, buyouts, and downsizing seen at the L.A. Times has become all too common nationwide. Buyouts are currently being offered at Knight Ridder’s San Jose Mercury News, Philadelphia Inquirer, and Philadelphia Daily News. And, according a recent report in American Journalism Review, the New York Times Co. expects to soon cut 45 newsroom jobs at The New York Times and 35 positions at its Boston Globe as part of a 500-person downsizing. Things aren’t much better in the alternative newspaper world. In one for the 'things could be worse' category, AJR reports managers with the struggling Cleveland Scene have put a moratorium on buying notebooks, pens, and batteries for reporters and photographers."

Here's the full story.

Scary stuff.

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