The Observer has learned that The Wall Street Journal will launch a weekly book review within the next few weeks. The Journal has never had a standalone book review before, and creating one now flies in the face of ever-dwindling book coverage in papers across the country.
The book review will be a pull-out section that will be inserted in one of the newly created sections for The Weekend Journal that will launch later this month. It is unclear how many pages will be dedicated to the new book review, but one source said it will be “significant,” though it’s uncertain if that means it will surpass The Times‘ usual 20-plus pages for its weekly Sunday Book Review, or if it will be in the same ballpark.
The section will be led by Robert Messenger who has been an editor at The Weekly Standard, a former editor of The Atlantic and — surprise! — one of the founding editors of The New York Sun. Mr. Messenger will be in charge of the weekly book review section and will also oversee the Journal‘s daily book reviews for the web and for the paper. Erich Eichman, who has been the books editor at the Journal since 1994, will now report to Mr. Messenger.
The book review pull-out will be inserted in a new section that will be edited by recent Journal hire Gary Rosen, a former editor at Commentary and, most recently, the chief external affairs officer at the John Templeton Foundation. Sources would not spill details about Mr. Rosen’s new super secret section, but it will be distinct from Deborah Needleman’s lifestlye section for the Saturday paper. In a memo announcing Mr. Rosen’s hire, Journal editor Mike Miller said it would launch “later this month.” Though the new book review will appear in Mr. Rosen’s section of the Saturday paper, book review editor Mr. Messenger will report to Paul Gigot, the Journal’s editorial page editor.
Book sections in newspapers have been killed left and right over the last few years. The Washington Post cut its standalone book section last year, The Chicago Tribune did it the year before, and the L.A. Times did it the year before that. There have been a lot of obituaries written in honor of book sections over the last few years, all lamenting a dying art in a printed newspaper that Rupert Murdoch — naturally — will now stubbornly try to revive.
One of the last remaining standalone book sections remains at — where else? — The New York Times. The section is produced on a weekly basis and edited by Sam Tanenhaus (Mr. Tanenhaus’s name has circulated throughout the Times building as a potential replacement for Gerry Marzorati as editor of the Times Magazine). The Times Book Review has a staff of more than a dozen people. Clearly Mr. Murdoch, who is taking on The Times is New York, has chosen his next battle ground.