Critic axed by Cleveland Orch?

April 3, 2009
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The fascinating story of the battle between The Cleveland Plain Dealer, its high-profile music critic, and the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra has been a long-standing buzz topic in the arts world.

In short, critic consistantly writes negatively about maestro. Symphony pressures newspaper. Newspaper demotes critic.

The play by play is more complicated than that. You can--and, if you are remotely interested in arts and media, should--read the play by play in Cleveland Magazine's recent article here.

My question? What should happen when the pen of the critic for the paper of record consistantly draws blood from a top-dog arts organization?  Did the inevitable happen or was there another solution to the problem? And, ultimately, were the readers served?

Your thoughts?
  • Anyone else see the irony of a newspaper called the Plain Dealer firing a guy for speaking too plainly?

    Every major market newspaper has a sports writer on staff who regularly lambastes the home team, calls for the firing of coaches and players, and generally holds every game to superhuman standards. They attract bags of hate mail from readers and get badmouthed or brushed off by owners, coaches, and players as a matter of course. But they keep their jobs.

    Why? They sell newspapers. People may hate Bob Kravitz, but they buy the Star and read him just to get mad at him. They expect him to hold athletes' feet to the fire and make cranky comments.

    Meanwhile, arts reviewers merely add color to a section of the paper that fewer people read. Also, I'd argue that lots of arts audiences are inordinately generous to institutions like orchestras - when's the last time you went to an orchestra concert that DIDN'T get a standing ovation? - and many arts administrators think that critics owe them some kind of knee-jerk appreciation just because they're lovers of the arts and we're all in this together . . . or some such thing.

    I think perhaps the Plain Dealer missed a chance to play up the drama and maybe sell a few newspapers. The bottom line probably was that it wouldn't have made nearly as much difference as the sales generated by whatever crank sports writer they have on staff (and I guarantee they have one) - so they folded rather than backing their man.

    This is not a sports = bad/arts = good argument. On the contrary, I think maybe arts organizations and news media could learn a lesson from the relationship of the sports writers and sports teams. On one side, don't be so darned sensitive when someone doesn't like your work. On the other, stick to your guns and let the critic call it like s/he sees it.

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