A shocking proposal?

Recently I heard that the culture editor of a newspaper somewhere in the US had been told about me, as someone who could give him ideas about improving newspaper coverage of classical music. I don’t know if this person will ever contact me, but I started thinking of what I’d sayif he ever did. And here’s what I came up with. Everyone talks about covering classical music in a livelier, more accessible way. But while I think that’s certainly a good thing to do, I don’t think it’s the main problem. I think the main problem is that — from any serious journalistic point of view — classical music isn’t covered at all.

Here’s what I mean. Suppose this person were the culture editor of the San Diego paper. (He’s not; I picked that city because I don’t know anyone at the newspaper there, or in the music scene, except that I’ve met Jahja Ling, the music director of the orchestra, a couple of times.) I’d start by asking if he knew how the San Diego Padres are doing. Probably he’d say yes (especially today, when they’ve got a one-game playoff for the National League wildcard). If he’s any kind of baseball fan, he’d know where they were in their division, and at least approximately what their won and lost record is. Very likely he’d also know how they stack up against the league at each position, what their manager is like, how their general manager is doing, and what kind of ownership they have. If he didn’t know these things, more serious fans certainly would. They’d all be written about on the newspaper’s sports pages.

Then I’d ask if he — or anyone at the paper — knew equivalent things about the San Diego Symphony. Here the answer almost certainly would be no, in large part because these things aren’t covered in the paper. But I think they should be. The orchestra, just like the baseball team, is an important civic resource. Plus it gets taxpayer money, and is out in the public arena every day of the year, raising money. The public, therefore, has a right to know what kind of organization it is, and whether it’s as good as it should be.

How would a newspaper determine that? The key, pretty clearly, is to compare the orchestra to others of its size. How does it stack up? I’ll admit that there’s nothing tangible to talk about, nothing like the won-lost record any sports team has. But orchestra professionals can rank the orchestra for you. They might not always agree, but you’ll get at least a general idea. Go around the country and ask musicians and orchestra managers how the San Diego Symphony rates. Also send your critic around to hear comparable orchestras, and see what the critic reports.

But there’s more. I said that baseball fans in San Diego know how the Padres rate at each position, how their second baseman, for example, rates against all the other second basemen in the league. The orchestra, too, can be examined that way. How’s its oboe section? How are its trombones? How well do the violas play? Again you can ask musicians. Find an oboist in some other city to talk to. Find several oboists. An objective picture will emerge. Orchestra professionals are very definite about such things. And this is a serious discussion, with real consequences. If the principal trumpet isn’t good enough, shouldn’t all of San Diego know it, and shouldn’t something be done?

Now classical music coverage begins to get interesting. Something’s at stake — civic pride, professionalism, human interest. There’s a story here, maybe several stories. I know one major orchestra where for quite a while the principal clarinet just wasn’t cutting it. Any musician could hear that. Was that ever written about, in that orchestra’s city? I don’t know. But when the New York Philharmonic’s first violin section wasn’t as good as it should have been, and Kurt Masur was taking very strong measures behind the scenes to get the weak violinists to quit, I don’t think that was ever mentioned in the New York press. It should have been. It was an important story, one of the main things going on in the orchestra.

And then what about the front office, as we’d say in baseball? What about the orchestra’s management, its president or executive director, and its board? How well do they do the job? Again, people in other orchestras will give you a good idea, if you can get their confidence (off the record, of course). So will people in other San Diego arts organizations. If the board is weak, what’s being done? I’ve heard several times from well-connected people in the arts in New York that the New York Philharmonic can’t attract A-list board members, or at least not many of them. The best people, or so I’ve been told, want to go to the Met Opera, the Met Museum, or MOMA. Is this true? It’s a devastating and important story, if it is. I’ve never seen it covered anywhere. (I’m not vouching for it, by the way. I’m only reporting what I’ve been told.) The Cleveland Orchestra, conversely, has long said it has the best board the business, the board that’s most qualified, works hardest, and best understands its role within the institution. Is this true? Certainly it’s important news if an institution thinks this. Certainly they’re letting their view be known among prospective board members, in order to set the requirements for board membership very high. So shouldn’t the public know whether the institution’s view of itself is really true? (From what I’ve seen in the past, Cleveland’s view of its board has very likely been right.)

Finally, there are tangible stats. How are the orchestra’s ticket sales? Over a ten-year period, what’s their trend, if there is one? Up or down? And how sharply up or down? Likewise for their fundraising, and for the size of their endowment (which depends, at least in part, on how well the endowment funds are managed). Why shouldn’t the public know how orchestras are doing by these measures? I think newspapers should demand to see these numbers.

Why don’t they? Aren’t these numbers especially important to know, at a time when it’s the conventional wisdom that orchestras, as institutions, are doing poorly? I’m sure some people in the business, some who might even be my friends, will be shocked to see me saying all of this. Orchestras need the best press they can get, I may be told. They don’t need anyone prying into their private business. What will donors think, if the press reports there’s trouble? Well, what will donors think if the press doesn’t report this, but the trouble is real, and the orchestra doesn’t talk about it? I don’t see why orchestras shouldn’t have the press keeping them honest, just as government and business does. Not to mention sports teams. If they don’t have anything to hide, why should they mind the scrutiny. I’ll end with two major New York stories that the press, as far as I know, isn’t covering. One is the notable success the Philharmonic has had in the past two years, selling tickets. The numbers, from what I hear, are really good. Why shouldn’t the public know this? Especially, as I’ve said, when it’s assumed that orchestras are doing badly. And what’s the reason for the solid sales? Are they likely to continue? Are they the result of anything that other orchestras can emulate? Aren’t these questions that would routinely be asked about a business that lately had been doing well?

The other story is about the Metropolitan Opera, which I’ve heard is running major deficits, despite all of Peter Gelb’s success. I’m not saying that these deficits are disastrous. In fact, I think they’re surely necessary. Peter, unlike many people who run large classical music institutions, isn’t afraid to invest money in the institution’s future, as a private business would do, if it had been in trouble, and needed to improve. But at the same time, the deficits raise a question, which I’m sure Peter would be the first person to acknowledge. What’s the Met’s financial model for its future? What does it need to put itself in balance financially, to get income and expenses in a ratio that’s sustainable? I think this all is very reasonable — and surely important — for the press to cover.

And I can’t believe that it would put the Met in danger. Since the Met is clearly making progress toward the kind of public presence other classical music institutions would kill to have, and since it’s selling more tickets, wouldn’t responsible coverage of its financial situation actually make people sympathetic? “Look how forceful and how daring this institution is! We should support it.”

One more footnote. I’ve head of places where the board of a classical music institution complains to a newspaper about what they think is unfavorable coverage, and the newspaper, to its shame, crumples under these complaints. The offending coverage — which in one case I know about was very sober, thoughtful criticism, the kind any institution should consider itself lucky to get — was suppressed. This, to me, is just about despicable, though I’ve run into things like it many times. Long ago I was asked to be on the advisory board of a magazine that would cover new classical music. I suggested that the magazine write about the controversies that then existed in the field. (This was the late 1970s, so that would have been angry disputes between “uptown” and “downtown” composers.) Oh, no, I was told. We can’t do that. We have to present a united front. Wrong! If you don’t — and this goes double or triple for mainstream newspapers — report a human-seeming world when you write about classical music, a world where people have the same human failings they have everywhere else, no one will believe what you write. Or, if they don’t react strongly enough to disbelieve it, they just won’t care.

Do we want politics, sports, and business covered in the normal style of the American press, while classical music is covered as if we lived in North Korea? OK, I’m exaggerating, but I don’t see how it does anybody any good for the press not to try to find out the truth.

Final footnote. I know the coverage I’m advocating would be hard to do. Nobody’s prepared for it, because it’s never been done. Critics, for the most part, aren’t equipped to do it. Generally they aren’t hardnosed reporters. But just because it’s hard, is that a reason not to try it? It’s a newspaper’s job, for God’s sake.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditEmail this to someone


  1. Ron Spigelman says


    I normally am right instep with what you think, but on this one I am thinking a little differently. I put it to you that the best thing a newspaper can do for instance in a smaller market for the arts is to more or less drop a dedicated arts section! Sounds crazy but it has happened recently here in Springfield MO and it has meant we have doubled our coverage and increased our reach dramatically. No I have not taken happy pills and here is what happened and how we are now benefiting :

    The News-Leader stopped publishing the section Life and Arts. It was the lowest read portion of the paper, advertising revenue therefore was scarce as they had to give great deals to get anyone to advertise in the section. Immediately there was uproar from our arts council and calls to the arts groups to start a dedicated arts paper. I have been telling them they don’t realize what a favor the News-Leader has done for us, we are now out of the jail that was the arts section that almost no one read, now we have to become both creative and relevant because if we become those things then by relating ourselves to what people are interested in, there is now no section we cannot be in! For your idea about ticket sales trends, there is now the business section that is open to us, if we are doing an outdoor event, well we have a great outdoors section that is widely read. The orchestra here plays on the field on the opening day of our AA Baseball team so now I can “pitch” an article about the differences and similarities of an Orchestra and a Baseball Team (hello Houston) and it will go in Sports pages, which is the most read section of the paper! Before, any story like that would have been relegated to the Arts section it would have been unread by most. In the Style section we can suggest a story about Symphony attire and advice of what feels comfortable is stylish and wears well when sitting in a seat for the evening. How about relating programming to creating a gourmet menu in the Food section. There is literally no part of paper that is not open to us now, and already we have had twice as many articles published than we did this time last year, and we just had a record opening in terms of single ticket sales. Co-incidence, I think not! Our Marketing manager’s head is spinning with all the ideas for stories she is coming up with. My goal is not just to create a great orchestra, more important than that, it is to become relevant, supportive and meaningful to our community. Cutting an Arts section will only help us achieve that, and who knows, one day the arts might become so popular and relevant here that the paper will decide that to increase advertising revenue, they will need to create an Arts Section because so many people are interested!

    I try to think of every challenge and obstacle as a new opportunity and advantage, it is working here…to our advantage!

    Ron Spigelman

    Buy the way the reviews are now next to the movie times….again thank you to our paper!

    Very interesting! And important. Thanks for sharing it. I hope other classical music institutions will do what you’ve done, even if their local papers still have arts sections.

  2. Laurence Glavin says

    Almost as important as NO coverage of classical music is LESS coverage. In Boston, the Globe has only two reviewers who regularly cover concerts or provide news of the classical music scene, along with maybe one stringer. As a result, every weekend, a half-dozen or more worthwhile events get no coverage in that paper; the weekly Boston Phoenix has just ONE classical music critic on staff, and the Herald is no better. Some Sunday’s, the Globe has no stories ot articles on classical music, while it’s chock-a-bloc with pop music, TV, the stage movies and TV. This is far from the way things were a decade ago.

    There’s been a decline in classical music coverage, but that has many causes. There are more dance companies, theater companies, galleries, and museums than there used to be. And meanwhile newspapers have, if anything, less space.

    I can also assure you that people in Boston involved with pop and jazz are complaining that their events don’t get covered. Classical music, in fact, may get covered more than pop and jazz do. Don’t be misled by highly visible coverage of big pop stars. Check to see what kind of coverage local bands get, or else artists who come to town and who don’t have a wide audience, but are artistically very strong.

    But here’s a question. Granted that there’s less classical music coverage than there used to be, what should people in the classical music world do about that?

  3. says

    Several key elements that drive sports coverage don’t seem to have any obvious potential analogue in classical coverage. One element of sports coverage is that regular folks have the ability to make judgments about the comparative quality of athletes. If I watch nationally televised games on ESPN, I can get an idea of how good a pitcher Josh Beckett is even if I don’t live in Boston, and I can compare him to the local ace (or to Chien-Ming Wang, or Justin Verlander, or…). The classical music world provides very few means for regular Joes (or underpaid stringer critics, I might add) to make their own comparisons between their hometown ensemble and ensembles from distant lands. This, I think, is the single biggest hurdle for sports-like coverage of orchestras. If people like their hometown symphony and read that certain members of the symphony are subpar, but are given no way to judge for themselves, the people will just say “Critics like to criticize” and shrug the whole thing off.

    Another important differentiating factor is the availability of truly objective measures for sporting performance. The merits of these objective measures may be debated, but at least they exist and can guide a discussion. You could get a rough consensus about an orchestra, I guess, but saying that a principal oboist usually delivers the goods in big lyrical solos but sometimes flubs faster passages and stands apart from his colleagues in tonal blends doesn’t have the same universally understandable meaning and authority as saying that Placido Polanco hit .341/.388/.458 last year.

    I’m not saying that the general attitude of sports coverage, as applied to classical music, wouldn’t be refreshing. Attendance figures would be welcome; frank discussions of the quality of the orchestra would be helpful for everyone; more discussion of the orchestra’s long-term plans and the management that conceived them is necessary. But the sports world has evolved lots and lots of structures and measures that support such inquiries, and classical’s got nothing at all. It won’t be as easy as transferring the sports coverage model into the arts; it would take creative thinking and an understanding of the inherent limitations of that model.

    That said, the image of Mike Ditka saying “You just can’t have that kind of clarinet playing in the Rach 2! You just can’t! That’s choking in the clutch! That clarinettist should be run out of town!” is really funny and worth the entire blog post.

    This is all true, what you say, but at the same time…why is it this way? In part that’s because the people covering classical music don’t go the extra mile to make comparisons. If you/ve got an orchestra with a subpar trumpet section, how hard is it — if the orchestra has any recordings — to post examples of the trumpet playing on the paper’s website, with comparisons to a good trumpet section playing the same mujsic?

    And if a critic had really gone around hearing comparable orchestras, and writing about them in a serious way, I’m not sure readers wouldn’t pay attention. Especially because many readers hear the problem, maybe better than the critics do. I’ve known a number of cases when ordinary audience members heard problems with a performance that the critic reviewing the concert never wrote about. These audience members then wondered if something was wrong with them.

    But the main thing is that critics now have a chance to help the local audience hear better. Besides, the quotes (even if necessarily anonymous) from outstanding musicians around the country would bolster the critic’s case.

    And what about the statistical stuff I think classical music coverage should uncover? This is surely beyond dispute. And the analogy here is maybe not sports, only, but also business. Coverage of local businesses is pretty much forced to be objective, and grounded in solid facts, because (at least in the case of publicly held companies) their financial performance is known. Not that reporting may be biased or lax, but you know what I mean. I’m talking about situations where the reporting is accurate. If a newspaper (or other media outlet) isn’t doing its job, then it really doesn’t matter how it covers any of these things.

  4. says

    OK, I just sent in a long comment, but two notes to append:

    1) Classical music could use a lot more comparison of ticket prices among ensembles, both within a city and outside it. There are certain ensembles and venues here in Washington that charge prices that I think are absolutely insane, but I’ve never seen a reviewer say “This concert cost way too much, and so does almost every other concert in this series.” Ticket prices are a subject of CONSTANT discussion in sporting circles, and any team that gets too out of line with prevailing norms is sure to hear about it.

    2) One of the reasons sports fans worry about the financial success of the franchises they follow is because they feel it directly relates to the team’s ability to pay its players. “Come out and support the team,” goes the line. I’m not sure I feel the same direct connection to the financial fortunes of an organization that’s funded primarily by rich people (rather than ticket sales) and that doesn’t make any attempt to relate its financial position to salaries, or to relate salaries to the quality of players it can attract. To support sports-like coverage, orchestras might have to start acting more like sports teams.

    3) This whole discussion appears to have been conceived for the big kahuna fish, the orchestras and opera companies. A period-instrument ensemble performing five times a year doesn’t really support that kind of coverage.

    This last point — I can see how my writing would have led you to conclude this, but no. My fault, maybe. As I was writing, I was thinking that this kind of coverage would be most revealing for smaller orchestras, whose quality and financial performance can vary very greatly. Typically, or at least in my experience, the public in cities with smaller orchestras — and also the people on the orchestra’s board! — don’t have much knowledge of how their orchestras compare with others of comparable size. (If I’m wrong about this, people who know better should set me straight. But I’ve certainly seen cases like this.)

    As a result, it’s hard for the local people to judge the orchestra’s performance by virtually any measure. The orchestra may be failing to take advantage of many opportunities it has, and not be playing up to an acceptable standard, and no one might know that. Or, conversely, and a lot more happily, the orchestra might be exemplary, playing well above its normal ability (because of a really good music director), and also might be doing exciting, unusual programs, with great support from its audience. And no one in town might know that this is unusual.

    As for the effect of financial matters, consider two things. First, a decline in ticket sales can all by itself create budget deficits. I know someone in the big-time orchestra world who believes — and can back this up with numbers — that the outburst of deficits in recent years can almost entirely be traced to a decline in ticket sales. The key thing here is that the decline doesn’t have to be gigantic. A 7% decline, kicking in slowly, over a number of years, might be almost invisible to someone going to concerts and looking around the hall, but might hurt revenue enough to cause a deficit.

    And, moving to a different area, I know one case in which negotiations over the salary of a key orchestra employee became very difficult, simply because the board of the smaller orchestra in question had no idea what salaries were for this position in comparable groups. That’s one case — and there have to be many others — where knowledge of what these salaries are nationally would have saved everyone a lot of grief.

    Finally, about the period-instrument ensemble playing five concerts a year…sales data can be crucial in understanding how well these groups are doing. You could have a boutique operation, an ensemble that’s a true artistic gem, long-established in its area, playing a few concerts each year. Or you could have a more conventional chamber music presenter in a regional city, again presenting five or six events a year. And in both cases — I’m talking now of groups that actually have this problem — you could see a small drop in ticket sales every year for the last decade. The drop can be negligible, in any given year. But when you get the long-term numbers, you suddenly see a drop of 15% over the past decade. This is extremely serious, especially if the group doesn’t yet know how it’s going to reverse the trend. As I said, I’ve seen these cases. They aren’t hypothetical at all.

  5. Paul A. Alter says

    Ron provides information that needs to be circulated as widely as possible. Please, Ron, let as many people as possible know about this.


    Picture a metropolitan area with a population of about two-million.

    In that population are about 5000 people who are interested in the local orchestra.

    Of those 5000, some 2000 hold season tickets to the weekly matinee or evening concert.

    The remaining 3000 attend intermittently.

    Every week, the local orchestra publishes an ad (usually about two three-column-inches side by side for a total of six column-inches) in the culture section of the Sunday newspaper. Question: what is the function of that ad? What is it supposed to do? What is it capable of doing?

    According to the internal evidence, the ads are intended to sell tickets to the 3000 people who attend intermittently.

    Since attendance is dropping, the ads are obviously not working. So, to jazz them up, the marketing people are adding some poetic blurbs about the compositions on the program — “pulse to the sensuous beat of . . .” — that sort of thing.

    Now, lets figure that a lot of the target 3000 who read the ads are already familiar with most of the compositions on the program, having already heard them at previous concerts, on the car radio, on recording, or whatever. So they are not likely to be persuaded by this sort of fustian.

    So, what we have here is some six expensive inches of newspaper space serving no apparent purpose.

    Now, what are the essential ingredients of an ad for a symphony concert: the names of the orchestra, conductor, soloist, composer, and compositions and the times and place of the concert. This could be covered, very effectively, in two column-inches — leaving us four inches for the sort of stuff Greg is talking about.

    For example, I see that DGG has issued a CD of William Bolcom’s “Cabaret Songs,” conducted by David Robertson. On the basis of past experience, I’d say this information will be a well-kept secret in St. Louis. Well, dammit, call those four inches of wasted space “Musical Notes” or “Bulletin Board” or something and fill it with news like this, along with where the local conductor is playing on his week off, who’s having babies, are there any plans for recordings by the orchestra and/or its members, is the hall getting new drapes, etc.

    This stuff may not seem to be of potential interest to the cultured 5000, but the mere act of reading it in the newspaper makes it so. Think Paris Hilton, Anna Nicole Smith, and all those others who achieved a celebrity status for which there was no reason.

    Make the orchestra a celebrity. Get people talking about it. Gossip spreads. People get curious. The orchestra begins to seem like an important asset to the community. You know the rest.


  6. says

    Another benefit of expanding Orchestra coverage to include the good and bad is that it will mean that the orchestra’s good press becomes more believable–and thus more likely to matter. If the only thing a community ever hears about their orchestra looks like it came straight off the subscription brochure then they will take it with the same grain of salt that they take all advertising.


    Hi, Maureen. Nice to see you here! (Maureen and I worked together in the Mellon Foundation’s Orchestra Forum.)

    The classical music world has to learn to present itself as part of the same society everyone else lives in, a society in which human beings do recognizably human things. I know some people in the business think it’s important to project a serious, lofty, above the battle, wholly artistic image, but this will surely backfire. People either won’t believe it, exactly as Maureen says, or else will think that the whole thing is way over their heads.

  7. says

    Ron is dead on. With orchestras playing ‘out of the box’, meaning, in more venues than simply the concert hall, the old placement of an arts section for those who remember to look for reviews or previews, is antiquated in many cities. I was in Knoxville last week with their orchestra, and they had a special ‘bloggers reception’ after the performance on opening night for the season. OK, they may not be classical music critics, but amongst themselves, they have a wide circle of blogger friends in the age bracket most orchestras are hoping to attract. I googled my name and received many articles by these ‘bloggers’ who had some wine and champagne, chatted, and spread the good word about the wonderful orchestra in their town. It is finally more about the people talking about the orchestra, rather than waiting for the review by a single opinion the next day. It brings the community together to support their orchestra, and they get to have a voice too. I agree with Ron regarding the joining of music/sports, music/food, etc. Stories should be able to have placement anywhere in the newspapers in certain cities when the symphony orchestra merges with another cultural/social/sports/educational environment.#

    Amen to all of this, but I’ll be a curmudgeon, and cite one possible danger. If everything is wonderful, wonderful (to quote Johnny Mathis), then there’s a danger of dumbing things down. Somewhere, each local orchestra needs some smart, sharp, artistic people monitoring what it does, and letting the town know if the orchestra falls beneath the highest standards. Plus, smart younger people are immediately skeptical of anything that’s supposed to be all good. They want nuance, ambiguity, a little darkness — something that reflects the world as they see it. I know you know this, Jeffrey. But I’ve been thinking for a while that some of the new initiatives in classical music outreach don’t always do justice to the intelligence of our art form.

  8. Anonymous says

    Here’s another thought for newspapers to develop a student blog section (some papers have a kids section, like Newsday has KidsDay):

    During an interview with Sandra Okamoto in Columbus, GA today, Sandra asked how we can further attract young audiences at the symphony orchestra concerts. I shared that when I was in Knoxville recently, they had a blogger’s reception following the performance. They are friends, colleagues and love to share their ideas. Wouldn’t it interesting if orchestras can create a Young People’s Blogger Society at their Symphony? This can be incorporated into the school music programs, where students can learn about the composers, the music and soloists in the concerts they will attend. The symphony orchestra might have a special Young People’s Blog reception following a performance, and the children would have the opportunities to meet with their fellow bloggers and make new friends. What better way than this to build future audiences by using the technology of today, used by children every day in their learning and socializing.

    See my response to Jeffrey Biegel’s comment. Again, I agree with what’s said here, and I’ve seen a number of orchestras reach out to bloggers. At the same time, though, I don’t just want orchestras to have a larger audience. I want them also to have a smarter audience, and I want the orchestras themselves to be better — smarter, more artistic, more in tune with everything in our current life. And for that, we need sharper and more critical scrutiny than bloggers may be able to provide.

  9. says

    I agree with you, and with Greg. Just seems like a side outlet to get more young audiences interested in the concert experience. Absolutely, the high level of the event must never be watered down, but it is always nice to make it accessible to new audiences, especially the young sect.

    And of course I agree with you about this.

  10. Stephanie says

    I read Ron’s first comment with envy. Our orchestra is seemingly held hostage by our local classical music critic. If we try to pitch a story to another section to broaden our reach, the critic makes life miserable for us and for whichever reporter had the gall to talk to us. It’s a big territorial battle for a critic who does NOT have the investigative/analytical skills that Greg is promoting (and that I wholeheartedly support). Since this is a one-daily town, our options are few, though we are trying to reach out to some alternative publications.

    I would be sorry to see a paper’s A&E section go away completely, as I think it’s helpful for would-be patrons to have event info and reviews in a centralized location. But when it comes to talking about, say, an arts organization’s education programs, that should be in the section of the newspaper that deals with education issues, assuming that the arts organization’s ed programs are of the quality (i.e. based on tested educational research) that merits inclusion in that section. Why can’t the arts critic help the education reporter and vice versa? The arts critic can provide the contacts, organizational background, and trends in that particular discipline, while the education reporter can evaluate the programs based on his/her knowledge of effective education practices. Then they can share the byline. Same goes for business-oriented articles, as few music critics are familiar with reading an organization’s Form 990 or audit. I know, I know, I’m being completely naive in thinking that reporters can play nicely together in the sandbox. But who wouldn’t want to be the “Woodward and Bernstein” of arts coverage?

    Thanks for this very honest comment,. Stephanie, and brava for taking on your local critic. That’s a point I hadn’t thought of. If the critic’s wrong, clueless, or otherwise inadequate, there needs to be some redress. The arts organizations who get cluelessly written about should (ideally) protest — though I understand the risks involved. Often a newspaper’s first instinct is to circle the wagons, to unite behind the critic. So protests have to be done carefully, maybe at first privately. And always with great care to say that it’s not the right of the critic to write unfavorably that’s in question, but the correctness of what he or she says.

    And then what if the protest — however correct, however carefully done — fails? And the same critic still writes about you the same way? But now with a mortal grudge. That could be ugly, and not serve the arts organization’s interest.

    An intermediate strategy is to flatter the critic. Take her out to lunch, get to know her, feed her correct information, a true point of view about how things work behind the scenes. Sometimes that works. I’ve seen one famous conductor do this with a critic who famously disdains having any inside information, and then the critic all but shamelessly scattered things the conductor said in subsequent reviews and columns.

    Some critics, though, would bristle at such contact. Yours might be among those.

    Sometimes there just isn’t a solution!

  11. anonymous says

    Your response to Stephanie assumes that the representative of the orchestra speaks for the whole. In my orchestra the critic originally was disappointed with the music director. Now the two of them along with the president are friendly. The musician’s relationship with the MD and president are on shaky ground and now the reviews have begun to say the concerts are mostly wonderful and the faults he finds are with individual players in the orchestra. In my mind the critic has been empowered by the MD to attack players and sections to further his agenda. Certainly the MD does not represent the whole truth of the organization.

    I respect this comment, and at the same time we might be slipping into “she said, he said.”
    In any case, the problem seems the same, in both comments. Whatever else might be going on, the root cause of the problems both commenters see would lie with the critic. If — again as the commenters see it — the critic had more ability, more independence, and maybe more honesty, none of these problems would be happening.

  12. says

    Sony’s PlayStation 3 already only does everything, so what more could you possibly need? Australians can find out for themselves with the Ultimate Blu-ray Movie Kit. Don’t let the name fool you, it’s really just the PS3 remote and two discs, but at $60 AUD (that’s $51 for US), it’s only one Banjo Paterson / $10 AUD more than what the remote retails on its lonesome. Both bundles include 300 as the first film, so you’re really choosing between 10,000 B.C. and Batman Begins. Not exactly a tough decision unless you already own Batman, but then again, you still might opt for a second copy instead.