We have been informed – not by the person concerned – that the New York Times has removed Allan Kozinn from his position as music critic and reassigned him to the newly-created, sidewalk-pounding post of general cultural reporter. He will report for new duties tomorrow.
The move has nothing to do with the quality of Times journalism. It is rooted entirely in the poison of internal politics.
Kozinn is one of the most respected voices on the paper’s flagging culture desk. Let me declare an interest before I tap out another word: he is a personal friend of long standing and a man altogether without malice.
He is the Times’s only specialist in contemporary music and a world authority on the Beatles (interest declared: I commissioned his best-selling book on the subject, below). Jon Pareles, the newspaper’s chief pop critic said, in a 1989 Juilliard lecture: ‘The Times is the only newspaper in the world with a Beatles Desk, and it’s in the classical department.’ Sir Paul McCartney told me: ‘He knows it all.’
Kozinn writes more and works harder than anyone in the department. Since he started writing features for the Times in 1977 (he went on staff in September 1991) he has written around 6,000 pieces, averaging out at 250 a year. That’s one piece a day in a five-day week. I cannot think of any critic on any other paper in the world with such high productivity. In addition to reviews, Kozinn has written features and obituaries, often at very short notice because no-one else was capable or available to do so.
None of this career information has come from Kozinn himself. The fact that it has been leaked to Slipped Disc indicates the degree of disaffection within the Times at the shabby way one of its most trusted and hard-working writers is being treated.
So why has the Times taken the extraordinary step of demoting a music critic?
The reasons are purely internal. Culture Editor Jon Landman knows he has a problem in the classical department. The chief critic Anthony Tommasini is thought to have failed to win the confidence of New York’s opinion formers. Moves are said to be afoot to hire Zachary Woolfe as Tommasini’s sidekick and, eventually, his successor. Landman has been heard to say that ‘Zach is the most important thing that has happened to classical music in a long time’ (sic). He needed to create a vacancy for Woolfe to be hired, so Kozinn had to go.
When push came to shove, Kozinn’s superiors vanished into thin air. The Classical Music Editor, James Oestreich, has a 33-year friendship with Kozinn, going back to the days when Kozinn and other writers walked off High Fidelity magazine when Oestreich got the push.
Oestreich, however, is pushing 70. He is clinging onto a chimerical job that probably should not really exist – few other newspapers can afford the luxury of a classical music editor – and he has been politicking away like crazy to let others take the rap for his many shortcomings. Letting Kozinn go was Oestreich’s chance to keep pulling down a salary way past his sell-by date.
These manoeuvres over the last few months have been shameful and self-serving . I hope to have an opportunity to discuss them with Mark Thompson before he takes up his new post as the Times’s chief executive and president.
Music insiders who know about this piece of chicanery agree that Kozinn’s demotion is unjust, illogical, unfair to a loyal and dedicated writer and very bad news indeed for the New York Times. The paper comes out of this affair looking pompous, heartless and cynical as Richard Nixon.
(What was the fatherly advice quoted by another fine critic, Philip Hope-Wallace? ‘Never work for a liberal newspaper, dear boy. They always give you the sack on Christmas Eve.’)