LA Times Books Section Gutted

L.A. Observed reports the terrible news that Orli Low and Susan Salter Reynolds have been let go from The Los Angeles Times. This leaves a skeleton crew of three manning what remains of the books section.

I haven’t met Reynolds. But I am particularly devastated to learn that Orli Low, one of the finest editors I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with, is no longer around. Let me tell you how good Orli was. Orli caught on to nearly all of my writing tricks very fast, constantly challenging me to find new phrasings and trusting me to clarify my arguments. Rather than dismissing my frequently oddball perspective, Orli always took the time to figure out where I was coming from, wanting to know the precise comparison I was making (even if she wasn’t always familiar with some of my more oblique references) and doing everything to preserve the spirit of a piece — even when we were facing a last-minute cut. Orli would often tell me over the phone to cut twelve or so words to make a piece fit. She learned very quick that I was a word units guy. This would be followed by our collaborative drowning of babies. Then there would be many unexpected discoveries as the piece transformed into something else.

What I admired so much about Orli’s editing was the way that she never gave up on a piece, even when she was facing crushing deadlines or needless space cuts, and even when there were guys like me who were perhaps a tad too attentive to the sentences.

I certainly did my best to make Orli’s job as easy as possible. But because Orli was so good, she always found the time to make a piece better. She had a great bullshit detector. And I responded very well to her combination of honesty and encouragement. Knowing something of what was going on inside the Los Angeles Times, I did my best to crack a few jokes and cheer her up over the phone. And if I learned that Orli was working on one of my pieces, I’d try to sneak in a few funny asides that I knew wouldn’t make the cut. To my surprise, a few of these bawdy subtleties found their way into the paper.

Orli helped to make me a better writer. And I know that other freelancers who worked with her felt the same way. Because of this, The Los Angeles Times‘s decision to fire her goes well beyond senseless and into the territory of “What in the hell were you thinking?” It is absolutely disgraceful and insulting for a newspaper to have fired an editor with so much talent and experience right before the holidays. The Los Angeles Times‘s books section simply won’t be the same without Orli. And I hope with all my heart that some outlet will have the smarts to snap Orli’s mad chops up, permitting her to continue what she did so well.