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May 30, 2007

Trouble in Atlanta: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Situation

An alarming decision has been made - one that I fear has implications for all of us, even though it is happening in only one community: Atlanta, Georgia. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, one of this nation's important newspapers, has made a decision to eliminate most of its arts critics and editors...

For years we have been seeing this trend in much smaller communities - and even occasionally in big cities like Chicago, where the Sun-Times encouraged their music critic to take early retirement and use stringers to review only some of the events the critic used to cover regularly. But Chicago is a two-newspaper city, and the Tribune has (so far) not moved in this direction.

Atlanta becomes the largest city whose main newspaper has decided to so drastically cut arts writing and criticism - and I fear it may well be a death knell for the arts and their historic relationship with print journalism. Some people would shrug their shoulders and say that this is a minor problem, because newspapers are relics of the past and will soon die anyhow. I don't believe it; they may change in ways we can't even predict, but I believe that future generations will contain a significant number of people who want their news in a tangible paper document that they can read over coffee without worrying about dealing with technology even in a minor way. But whatever we may think about the future, the fact is that at present a very large number of people have their view of the world shaped by newspapers - and what the AJC has done is to make a big statement that the arts and culture are simply not important in our society. The paper's managing editor says that cultural coverage will not shrink, just change. But his rhetoric is very unconvincing.

Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Music Director Robert Spano, in a letter to the editor, was eloquent: "Ours is a city of growth, and this loss would strike a disheartening blow to our ambitious aspirations. If the AJC follows through with this decision, it will distinguish Atlanta as the largest city in the country without a classical music, book or art critic on staff at its major newspaper." And Spano concluded his letter with a two word sentence that sums it up perfectly: "Art matters." Sadly, fewer of the people in positions of leadership in our society seem to agree.

Many of us have observed the decreasing value put on the arts and culture by those who shape a society's thoughts and directions over the past quarter century or so, and this is just one more leap backwards in that decrease. If those of us who care continue to do little or nothing, we will have ourselves to blame. I have no idea if this decision can be overturned by a popular outpouring of sentiment. I don't know if the powers that be at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution even care about what the citizens of Atlanta think, let alone the rest of us in the country. But there can be no downside at all in expressing ourselves - and there is an easy way to do it.

Please take a moment to sign an online petition initiated by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra if you are concerned about the future of arts coverage by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. There you can find Robert Spano's full letter to the editor.

I urge you to follow through.

Posted by hfogel at May 30, 2007 5:08 PM

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