Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Dangers of Being a Critic

This morning, I am ashamed of our big local newspaper. The Cleveland Plain Dealer has decided to remove a reporter, Donald Rosenberg, who has covered the Cleveland Orchestra for more than 28 years. The reason? Mr. Rosenberg is critical of the current maestro, Franz Wesler-Most, and the Plain Dealer caved under the pressure. The editor, Susan Goldberg, says it's an "internal personnel matter," but Rosenberg was more forthcoming (quoting from a story in today's New York Times) : “She said my reviews were unfair, and I was attacking the orchestra.”

Now, I know roughly squat about classical music. Rosenberg might be wrong (although several articles seem to suggest that he is not the only critic of this conductor). And it is not as if I am worried that some publisher is going to fire me from my blog because they disagree with my opinions and reviews. But as a reader, as someone who depends on that paper for news and reviews, I am far less convinced today that I am getting honest reporting, uninfluenced by advertising dollars and big institutions, than I was last week.

I have written a few negative reviews in my time. Look back just a few days to my review of The Whiskey Rebels and you'll find one. I am perfectly willing to give credit where it is due, but no book is flawless, and even in reviews of books I loved, you will often find criticisms. I would hate to think that a publisher or publicist would decide not to send me a book based on such an opinion. I would hate to think that an author would call me an enemy because I wrote that certain aspects of a book needed improvement or did not appeal to me. Luckily, I am not dependent on them for a paycheck and my professional reputation (as a totally amateur book reviewer), and readers here have made it clear that they appreciate this approach, as I do in the reviews that I read.

So, what will The Plain Dealer do now? They have set a dangerous precedent. What if their new orchestra critic isn't willing to gush with praise over the Maestro? I certainly can't say, but I think that while they may have appeased a small group of orchestra supporters, they have seriously damaged their reputation on a much wider stage. Good luck to you, Mr. Rosenberg.

7 comments:

Michele said...

If you think there is enough community outcry about this (and I hope there is!!), you can get a letter-writing campaign going. Start with a letter to the editor and let 'em have it!

Of course, all this is contingent on you having the time and inclination to do it. :)

And you're right...it's horrible and the publisher should be ashamed.

Dawn (sheIsTooFondOfBooks) said...

"I know roughly squat about classical music" :) (grin)

Sounds like the newspaper has crossed the line from reviewing the orchestra to wanting to advertise/promote it!

Are the articles personally critical of the maestro, or only critical in regard to his handling of the orchestra?

Censorship ... just in time for Banned Books Week (Banned Band-Critic Week?)

Lisa said...

Dawn, none of the articles are personally critical of the conductor. In fact, I think (from what I have read) that the reporter has given him a lot of credit for the things he does well - it's just that the orchestra has moved away from the type of music the conductor is really proficient with...at least in the opinion of this critic.

The thing is, that's exactly why you have a critic - to give you an opinion. You hire someone with a lot of very specialized knowledge of classical music and you ask him to provide the expertise and context that you don't otherwise have.

If they had fired him, it would actually have made more sense. If they had said "you are a bad reviewer and we think you're doing a bad job" that's very different from saying "we want you to review the opera and the ballet, just not the orchestra."

And michele - I think finding criticism of their decision on the front page of the NYT is going to hurt more than any letters I could write.

Sandra said...

This was very interesting. I suspect Mr. Rosenberg may not lack a job for long with all the press about him. Someone will snap him up as an experienced and honest critic. Makes me wonder whether other factors were behind his being let go that we don't know about. Ageism maybe? Who knows. Glad you wrote about it.

Chris said...

That's pretty sketchy. I haven't had a a subscription to my paper in years because they rarely get anything right. It wouldn't surprise me if this sort of thing was going on too.

Marie said...

I just nominated you for an award here
http://www.bostonbibliophile.com/2008/09/i-heart-your-blog.html

Jena said...

I can't say I was ever a fan of the Cleveland Plain Dealer when I was living in nearby Akron, but then, I've become skeptical of all newspapers. (I didn't often read The Akron Beacon-Journal, either.)