The above link to LAOBSERVED has a lot of info about the soon to improve LA Times website - more about that later - but what caught my eye was the web-only features of the new (albeit already infamous) combined Book Review/Opinion section. I say infamous because it has already been greeted with only slightly less anticipation than New Coke or Hitler's entrance into Austria.
But when I first heard the two sections were going to be combined - my immediate thought was - that's a brilliant idea - if they get it right. And it looks like they are doing it right.
One problem has been that both sections have been physically hidden from sight, embedded deep within other sections making them impossible to find. Another problem was the book review section had too few - and too long, in many cases - reviews - and... little else. But all that will now change:
This Sunday, Book Review/Opinion will offer up a host of web-only features. For books there will be columns be about mysteries, science fiction, children's literature, literary news and more reviews than in print.
Now, of course, there is the obvious error that there is not yet a column about... Westerns... but I assume public demand will shortly solve that problem (and the number of the LA Times is... 237-5000).
Hopefully, there will also be a column covering the literary scene in Los Angeles (a Mickey Kaus type gossip column), a column covering the publishing industry in Los Angeles and quirky stories about local writers. And book review's cohabitation with the Opinion section also makes it a perfect place for thumbnail reviews of books readers might want to consult after reading an article in Opinion. It can also be a place where classics can be reviewed and brought to an audience unfamiliar with the canon and a place where overlooked or forgotten books can be brought back to life.
And, of course, all this demand for so many books to buy - will create an audience for advertisers and that, eventually, will allow both sections to expand in the future after this temporary retrenchment.
Now for Opinion:
Opinion has three web-only columns, Opinion Daily, Blowback, feedback from readers and subjects of stories and editorials, and Dust-Up, a weeklong (sic) debate between two people with contrasting views about an issue in the news.
First - Current has been killed! Everything else is secondary to that.
But the genius of this elegant solution is combining two little read sections each with their own constituency - but which are sections that appeal to the same type of reader. And by putting them in the same section, you are reaching readers who might not always open one of the sections - but who are more likely to read both sections than the average Times reader once confronted with them. Marketing 101 perfected!
As for the rest of the changes - sounds all good, assuming the new sections are more about local issues and less about readers pontificating about Iraq and hanging chads. But there is one thing that has been lacking even in all the new - and all welcome - additions to the Opinion section - and that's action items; actions people are inspired to do after they read about a subject.
Opinions are nice, but actually doing something about them is even better.