Friday, October 03, 2008

Look Out Cleveland

My screed on the shameful treatment of music critic Don Rosenberg by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, scheduled to run in this Sunday's Chron, is now up on-line. It includes one obvious rhetorical gaffe that I wish I'd caught in time (you'll spot it), but otherwise it sums up my feelings on the matter pretty well.

There's one point, though, that I left out of the piece for a variety of reasons but which may be worth adding here — namely, the way in which this episode is essentially different from the other misfortunes that have lately befallen the fraternity of newspaper critics.

Music critic positions, as many of us know, are disappearing with frightening suddenness in the U.S. — just in the past year or so, critics in Miami, Kansas City, San Diego, Seattle, Minneapolis and probably others that I can't think of at the moment have retired or been bought out or reassigned. It's an unnerving development, not only for those of us in the field but for anyone who believes that informed and conscientious commentary on classical music is, let's say, a cultural net plus.

But those developments are based on bottom-line decisions about how to keep a newspaper profitable in the face of economic difficulties. I don't agree with those decisions — from where I sit, they're short-sighted and regrettable — but conversely, editors aren't under any ethical or moral obligations to balance their books in accordance with my preferences.

One recently cashiered colleague, when I suggested this, pointed out that his newspaper is now covering classical events through the combined agencies of their TV writer and general features reporter. Again, that strikes me as sad but not reprehensible — it's simply an overt admission that in this area, quality is a luxury the paper doesn't feel it can afford.

This is analogous, say, to the question of whether a restaurant can afford to insist on using only the best local produce (yeah, it's a Bay Area analogy; sue me). That gets you bragging rights, and puts your restaurant into a certain elite tier. But it's not imperative, if you find the cost is too high relative to the benefits.

The Plain Dealer's behavior toward Rosenberg, though, is in another category entirely — the culinary equivalent, let's say, of serving rotten meat. It wasn't a financial decision — unlike at other papers, no one at the PD ever said that a classical music critic was an asset they simply couldn't afford — and it wasn't even based on some misguided idea that making a change in the classical coverage would have, I don't know, attracted younger readers or something.

This was lack of ethical standards, pure and simple. And it stinks.


At 10/05/2008 1:18 AM, Blogger Empiricus said...

I, like you, was terribly disturbed by this news, frightened even. Perhaps even more disturbing is that, outside of the usual music-centric circles (and probably due to recent economic hardships), this isn't getting a wider audience. Yes, a few of you brave souls have tackled the issue--including NPR, which was totally surprising, to me--but this is a MAJOR breech of ethics that, in a more stable social and economic scenario, would be attacked much more harshly. What worries me, at least for time being, is that our financial situation might act as subterfuge for other transgressions of this ilk. And we won't be able to see it, because we'll being looking elsewhere.

P.S. Good to see you back.


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