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June 6, 2007

Wonderful news from Atlanta!

Wonderful news has been received from Atlanta - the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has re-appointed their music critic, Pierre Ruhe, as one of two "reporter/critics" in the reorganization of the staff of the paper...

I believe that the managers of the newspaper responded positively to the public concern that consistent and competent music criticism not be eliminated from the paper. Newspapers are all trying to adapt themselves to these changing times, and they all have to think carefully about what they do and how they do it. To me it has always been clear that while some members of the younger generation find their news in places other than daily newspapers, the leadership of most communities still count on their local newspapers to provide them with the important information they need to be contributing citizens. I am delighted that the Journal-Constitution has recognized this and by reappointing Mr. Ruhe as a music critic will preserve thoughtful criticism as a consistent part of its community coverage of the arts. I hope that all of us involved in the arts will celebrate this decision, and express our gratitude to that newspaper. Now let us hope that the folks in Minneapolis and at New York Magazine are paying attention.

Posted by hfogel at June 6, 2007 12:13 PM

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From Hank Klibanoff
Managing Editor for Enterprise
Atlanta Journal-Constitution...

I never want to turn away praise extended to the newspaper where I am a managing editor. So thank you for recognizing the wisdom of continuing Pierre Ruhe as an arts critic at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

But I do want to clarify some points, debunk some wild myths and introduce the truth into the dialogue about the AJC's plan for arts criticism and coverage.

Like you, I am very happy that Pierre will continue to bring our readers superb criticism and coverage. Same with Cathy Fox and Wendell Brock. They've done brilliant jobs for us, and are a pleasure to work with.

The AJC has been going through a bold, exciting and, at times, challenging structural reorganization. To meet the needs of a digital audience that is growing and a print audience that loves a sophisticated and lively newspaper, the entire departmental structure, the flow of news and many job responsibilities are changing.

Because we are creating some new jobs, closing old ones, merging some and modifying others, we decided to go with the most fair and democratic job placement process we could find, one that allowed everyone to apply for jobs.

As we went through that process, Pierre and our others probably weren't too excited about it, and I don't blame them. But they were professional about it, understanding that this was about something bigger than any group of reporters. I also imagine that if they had had their eye on another job in the newsroom and were blocked from applying for it, they might have felt the deck was stacked against them.

So it was a difficult few weeks. We were prepared for that.

But we were not prepared for the way myth and misconception took root in some sectors of the media, especially the blogosphere, as irresponsible arts advocates and bloggers sent their misguided missiles through cyberspace without any regard to where they were aimed, whether an attack was justified or who got hurt. Truth and reality became twisted beyond recognition.

Some said we had eliminated the critic positions; they were wrong. We never did such a thing, and you'll not find any evidence to contradict that. Some said we removed the people holding the critic positions; they were wrong. We never did such a thing. One email from the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta went so far as to say we planned "elimination of arts coverage."

Those who participated in spreading these falsehoods have hurt us, have hurt the credibility of the arts blogosphere, and have hurt themselves - because there was not a word of truth to it. And any misinterpretation of the truth could have easily been corrected with a simple conversation.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution remains committed to vigorous and comprehensive coverage and criticism of the arts. Even as we, like most newspapers, have reduced and reorganized our staff, the AJC has maintained the level of its staffing for the arts - as it promised it would from the outset.

Pierre and Cathy will continue in the two arts critic/reporter positions in the enterprise department. Wendell remains as theater critic/reporter. Mark Davis and Kirsten Tagami become cultural affairs news reporters, Sonia Murray becomes the music scene reporter, Rodney Ho becomes the local TV and radio reporter, Bob Longino becomes the local movies reporter. Also, David Graves has been named to another new position, leisure reporter, covering weekend events of all kinds. Most of these staffers are remaining in the positions they already held, or in positions that have been modestly modified from what they held.

From the beginning of the reorganization, as the AJC drafted and wrote job descriptions for its staff members who cover the arts, the AJC built into three job descriptions a requirement that the staff members holding those positions provide arts criticism; the three critic/reporters who held those positions before the reorganization (Ruhe, Fox and Brock) are the same three who will hold those critic/reporter positions after the reorganization.

The requirement, in the job description, that these staffers provide criticism was memorialized in writing the entire time that bloggers, reporters, the Woodruff Arts Center and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra erroneously claimed the jobs and criticism were being eliminated.

This means that anyone who wrote or said we were eliminating criticism or critics was flat out wrong. Remarkably, those who were most vocal and heated in decrying our alleged elimination of critical writing abandoned all critical thinking when it came to assessing whether the rumors about us were true. And, oh, how easy it would have been to avoid that; all any of them had to do was call and ask us. We'd have told them.

Here's what one Atlanta writer said today when the Boston Globe asked why he didn't try to call the managing editor who knew more about the situation than anyone before writing the falsehood that the arts critics jobs were being eliminated: "If it turns out to be wrong, I would rather not have gotten it wrong and that would have entailed making a few more phone calls. You have to understand, there were a lot of positions changing. And in most cases, when I did make phone calls to staffers, they were not returned. Especially to people I didn't know. I don't know Pierre Ruhe." (http://www.boston.com/ae/theater_arts/exhibitionist/2007/06/reappearing_mus.html)

Keep reading that Globe story and you will see that the vice president for marketing at the Woodruff Arts Center, also apologized to us for spreading falsehoods about the AJC's actions.

So, while I appreciate the praise we're getting for coming to our senses and "reinstating" Pierre, or reversing course and "retaining" him, or for responding to public uproar, I must say that none of those are true.

Pierre, I am happy to say, will continue as an arts critic/reporter, but that represents no change of course.

I love the passion of the arts communities, and I, along with the other leaders of the AJC newsroom, appreciate and share their deep concern about arts coverage and criticism. Because of that passion, arts communities remind me of the newsrooms I have chosen to spend my professional life in. We at the AJC state emphatically that we believe that the arts play a vital and positive societal role. We will continue to do our best to reflect that in our coverage in print and online.

I am grateful for Mr. Klibanoff's clarification of the situation, and even more grateful that Pierre Ruhe will continue doing the excellent work he has done for so long at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. And I do not wish to get into a battle over semantics with Mr. Klibanoff. But even accepting the accuracy of the situation described by Mr. Klibanoff, it is a troubling one to those of us who care about intelligent, perceptive music criticism. For a music critic with a long and distinguished record of accomplishment to have to re-apply for his job, or apply for a new job, seems to me demeaning. If one wishes to change someone's job description, the normal procedure is discussion with that person, not terminating their employment and asking them to re-apply for the new position. Mr. Ruhe's past accomplishments should have kept him out of a competitive situation with other journalists for a music writing position at the paper. Additionally, most of us in "the blogosphere" did not rush into this subject until after there were several days of public statements from Atlanta's arts community about the elimination, and the establishment of an online petition by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. During that time, had Mr. Klibanoff or the Journal-Constitution made a strong public statement outlining what he has outlined here, the fire would have been out. I do not believe that I or any other reasonable person can be faulted for assuming, from the lack of any public statement, that the situation was as described by the Atlanta arts community. If it is true that all of us who wrote about this situation could have investigated more thoroughly, it is equally true that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution could have ended the speculation with a forceful public statement.

Having said that, I wish to end on a positive note. If there were bumps in the road getting to the final decision, we can all regret it. But we are delighted with the final decision, and the fact that Atlanta will continue to benefit from stimulating coverage of its vital arts scene.

Henry Fogel

Posted by: Hank Klibanoff at June 7, 2007 11:04 PM