They noted, as we all did, that it’s really disgraceful for the Cleveland Plain Dealer to demote Don Rosenberg, its respected classical music critic, just because they’re uncomfortable with his negative reviews of the Cleveland Orchestra’s music director. The fullest, most plausible defense of what they did is in a column by Ted Diadiun, the paper’s reader representative. He wrote:
[The music director's] contract extends to 2018. Rosenberg has
made it clear, over and over, that he believes the conductor
routinely fails to get the most out of the orchestra, a view
he seems unlikely to change or mute. It is fair to wonder,
then, whose interests would be served by 10 more years of
unrelenting criticism on the same point. Just as we would
not assign a book review to a critic who is already on the
record as loathing a certain author’s style or genre,
is it reasonable to continue assigning a music critic to
review performances by a conductor whose leadership he is
unlikely ever to approve?
Leaving aside what I think is an idealistic view of book reviewing, this isn’t unreasonable. Though we could just as well conclude that, yes, it’s perfectly appropriate for the critic to continue, if his views are responsibly expressed, and not out of line with mainstream opinion (which they’re not). And, again, it’s disgraceful not just to look for alternate opinions, but to demote the critic. An uncomfortable situation, which certainly existed, is one thing, but to blame the critic for it — which is the message sent by a demotion — is just about scandalous. (Especially when your paper’s publisher sits on the orchestra’s board.)
Enter Ethan and Vanessa. They had the best ideas I’ve yet seen, for other ways to resolve the problem, certainly better than my ideas (in a piece I wrote for the Wall Street Journal). I’m happy to post them here, with Ethan and Vanessa’s permission.
They had two ideas. First, the paper could have addressed the situation publicly, and recruited other critics, even from other cities, to contribute guest reviews that would run along with Don’s. They’ve already appointed another critic, Zachary Lewis, to take Don’s place, and review the Cleveland Orchestra, but the thought here was to put Don in a national perspective, and show Cleveland readers where his reviews might fit on some kind of national spectrum. Lewis, of course, could be one of the other critics.
The Plain Dealer wouldn’t be likely to do this, and not just because so much public self-examination by a newspaper — or any other institution — is (to put it mildly) rare. Newspapers are losing circulation, and losing money. Classical music isn’t popular with the younger readers they want to attract. So why would they devote more space to it? And pay more money?
In this case, there’s an answer. They’d attract a lot of attention by such a bold, honest, and also provocative move. And at least in the short run, they’d also attract readers. How long they’d continue would be something to decide as time went on, but they could always put additional reviews on their website, freeing space in the printed paper.
Second idea, less dramatic, but much simpler: Don’t demote Don, but simply alternate him and Zachary Lewis, when the music director conducts. After Don reviews a concert, Lewis reviews the next one. That way, you protect Don’s honor — and your own — while giving readers more varied opinions.
These are terrific ideas. Thanks for them, Vanessa and Ethan. And thanks for letting me put them in the blog. I’m going to e-mail Ted Diadiun, and see what he thinks.