Chronicle loses its books editors

If you're one of the few people still reading newspapers, you've probably figured out this truism: Print media is screwed. You know this because you've read several stories in newspapers about newspapers suffering declining circulation, revenues, and relevance in the Internet age.

Another more subtle manifestation of the print-media-is-screwed trend is the scaling back of book reviews in newspapers. Until recently, our very own San Francisco Chronicle was one of only a handful of dailies in the country to maintain a stand-alone books section. That sorta changed in April, when the Chron made its Sunday books "section" an insert in the Insight section.

Some in the publishing world wondered whether the Chron would finally succumb once and for all to industry pressures last month when word leaked that books editor Oscar Villalon had accepted the paper's latest buyout offer. Was this a sign that the Chron would gut its books coverage? A story about Villalon's departure in Publishers Weekly suggested there was no immediate reason to panic. It reported that deputy books editor Regan McMahon, a 25-year Chronicle veteran, would take over as the new books chief.

But now comes word that there could be reason for concern: McMahon is also taking the buyout. "It was a heart-breaking decision for me," she says.

When SF Weekly contacted McMahon Monday morning, she said people in the publishing world didn't know about her imminent departure, and she feared that once they heard the news, they'd freak out. But she insists they shouldn't worry — she's been assured by higher-ups that the paper plans to name a new books editor and keep the section going.

That's good news, although it doesn't change the fact that, according to a June story in The New York Times, the Chronicle is still losing $1 million a week and is in the process of shedding 125 more employees via buyouts.

By the by, in our haste to meet our print deadline, we were unable to deduce what Villalon and McMahon plan to do next. If they're smart, they'll get out of the print media biz.

 
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