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July 20, 2005

Critics and Reporters and Being Played Like a Fiddle

I disagree, Douglas. I think Dan Wakin's coverage of the Baltimore situation in the Times has been quite good, and Dan is a reporter, not a critic. He is, however, someone who knows a good deal about music, plays an instrument (the clarinet) and is devoted to the subject. He also, should he need technical support, can call on the paper's critical staff to test his observations, although since his articles are edited by our music editor, Jim Oestreich, that happens automatically. The point, though, is that it's entirely possible to have a reporter who isn't a critic cover this field. It only requires that the reporter get to know the field, the people in it, and how it runs, and have technical support from the critics if necessary. And I think that's how it should be.

Personally, I have mixed feelings about the Baltimore story and how it's played out, because I think, basically, that we (all of us) have been spun.

The first stories appeared, before the board vote, because the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra deliberately leaked it. And they deliberately leaked it because they know that we prefer being able to give the impression of journalistic derring-do, rather than simply printing a handout, which is what the formal announcement would have been. Granted, the plain announcement would have had some play for a number of reasons -- first woman to get a post at that level, and a young(ish) American, etc. But by leaking, the Baltimore Symphony guaranteed themselves at least two stories, reported at a national level, rather than one: the "it's going to happen" story, and then the confirmation once the board voted.

Whether they counted on the orchestra rebellion (and they may have: surely they knew how the 7 orchestra members on the committee felt) is a moot point: the board was going to vote as it did anyway, but the orchestra rebellion stories simply kept the Baltimore Symphony in the news for all the intervening days between the "leak" and the announcement. Brilliant. One could argue that Marin Alsop may have been damaged here and/or the orchestra looked bad -- but not really. All the stories included considerable praise of her talents, and characterized the orchestra itself as quite good. Once things settle down, those are the things that will be remembered principally.

So really, this was all a brilliantly orchestrated publicity stunt. I'm not saying we should have covered it differently. We couldn't have, really: we had to cover it as it unfolded -- that's the deal, that's the job. But we should be aware that we've been manipulated.

I just thought I'd inject a cynical note here so that Norman doesn't have to do all the work himself.

Posted by akozinn at July 20, 2005 08:20 PM


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