Saturday, April 21, 2007

AJC axes "classical music critic" position

The staff position of "classical music critic" has been eliminated at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, according to recent published reports by writers at Creative Loafing-Atlanta.

But the story hardly stops there. The AJC is losing a "who's who" of senior writers due to a restructuring of the daily newspaper with what some might easily call a "virtual hatchet."

Even as two of its editors were announced winners of Pulitzer Prizes for Journalism, editorial columnist Cynthia Tucker (for commentary) and managing editor Hank Klibanoff (shared the prize for history), the daily newspaper is losing some 40 senior senior staffers in an "early retirement buyout" (including the AJC's only other extant Pulitzer winner, science writer Mike Toner), a number of other specific "beats" have been eliminated, and it appears many remaining writers will be obliged to compete for remaining jobs in a "reapplication" process.

"Features" appears to have been one of the departments hit hardest, with elimination of both the "classical music critic" position [Pierre Ruhe] (leaving two other staff music writers to compete against each other for the sole remaining "pop music" job) and "visual arts critic" post [Catherine Fox], as well as two of its three film critic jobs [Eleanor Ringel Gillespie was one of the senior writers to accept "early retirement"] to rely upon wire service reviews. (Atlanta's alternative weekly, Creative Loafing, for comparison, has two local film critics.)

I have tried to contact AJC classical music critic Pierre Ruhe by e-mail for comment, even off-the-record if he wishes, but have received no response as of yet.

Although daily newspapers all around have experienced severely decreasing readership, my personal opinion is this the equivalent of the AJC dropping its pants and mooning Atlanta's arts community, particularly the classical music world. (As many of you know, I cover classical music for Creative Loafing, and won an ASCAP/Deems Taylor award in 2003 for it, but in what I must admit appears to be less-and-less frequent assignments.) And according to one member of the Atlanta Symphony, another alternative weekly, The Sunday Paper, recently published a list of "top 40" influential people in Atlanta's music scene, and not one of them was part of the "classical" world, not even Robert Spano--but I have not personally seen the list, so I cannot confirm that report, though I will ask the SP's A&E editor for a copy.

But those I have spoken with about the AJC's changes regarding "classical music," even when it was far less clear late last week exactly what was transpiring, classical music supporters in Atlanta are upset--those who know about it, that is. I'm not even sure what we know now is all that clear, as a "job reapplication process" for remaining AJC writers will not be over until June 1, according to Creative Loafing reporter Scott Freeman--see second link below.

My own best guess at this juncture is that the AJC staff posts on the chopping block will continue to exist until the "reapplication" process is over, but I have no tangible confirmation of that at this time.

The first I heard that something was going down specifically with AJC coverage of "classical music" was Friday, April 13, during intermission of an Atlanta Symphony subscription concert. Nevertheless, please read more about it here:

Fear and loathing at the AJC

by Scott Freeman [Creative Loafing "Fresh Loaf" blog, April 13, 2007]

Newsroom musical chairs at the AJC
AJC loses top talent and familiar names; many who stay will have to find new beats
by Scott Henry [Creative Loafing, online/print editions, April 18/19, 2007]

—Mark Gresham, composer/music journalist 21 Apr 2007

1 comment:

Darren Nelsen said...

What's behind this? Slump in newspaper sales, loss of advertiser revenue? - Are numbers available on the financial health (or decline) of the paper? What prompted this action?

I can say for one that I never read the AJC. Except of course when I want to see something Pierre's written or someone specifically points me to the paper for some reason. Maybe it's my age (33), but newspapers mean very little to me. I get all my news online. But that's not say that papers are not important to reaching a wider audience and filling a cultural/community need. This shakeup is very sad. Whole segments of Atlanta that would otherwise get their info from the classical music and visual arts columns now won't. What is a paper's role if not to bring cultural awareness to the community?

Seems like a shot in the foot to me. I suspect that the AJC will not be around much longer. At least, it won't be important for very much longer. Oh, it'll float around for many years, it'll physically be here, but no one will take it seriously. It will just be a soul-less, life-less, hope-less rag. I see this recent move as a nail in that coffin.

Ok, so what then? As composers, what does this mean for us? Lack of coverage. Lack of a tool to get us more known. Pierre was very helpful to me and Adam in covering our 'Turned On' concert in Feb. and writing about the local composer scene, including the ASSG. I know that some people showed up at our concert because of Pierre's articles in the paper. So, we've lost that.

So what do we do with this? It's open for thought and discussion. I think we as composers need to bootstrap ourselves more and take responsibility for covering and promoting ourselves. We should write about ourselves using tools like this blog. We should organize more concerts and do more recordings.... AND take it to the people! Through our own promotional tools that go directly to people (blogs, RSS feeds, emails, forums, podcasts, streams, etc.) we won't need old-world media like the AJC that doesn't give a crap about us anyway.

Let's use this event to make ourselves stronger.

And let's keep in touch with Pierre to see where he's gonna land.