Miami Herald Drops Its Classical Critic
By Susan Elliott
June 26, 2008
Last week it was the Kansas City Star; this week it’s the Miami Herald. When will the blood-letting stop?
On Monday, Miami Herald Classical Music Critic Lawrence Johnson received an “involuntary buyout” from his newspaper. Just to be clear, the word “buyout” when preceded by “involuntary” means laid off, in this case with eight weeks severance pay. Such is Johnson’s paper parachute.
The Miami Herald is located literally across the street from the two-year-old Carnival Center for the Performing Arts (now known as the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County, due to Arsht’s get-out-of-debt contribution), built at a cost to Miamians of just under $600 million and housing as resident companies the Florida Grand Opera, the New World Symphony, the Concert Association of Florida, the Miami Ballet and, for several weeks annually, the Cleveland Orchestra. Apparently, the Herald isn’t very interested in covering its neighborhood.
Like the Kansas City Star, the Herald is owned by the McClatchy Company, the third largest newspaper chain in the country. McClatchy is severely in debt from its 2006 purchase of Knight Ridder, and so is cutting ten percent of its workforce, company wide. At the Herald, it’s actually 17 percent, or 190 of its 1,400 employees.
The lay offs were apparently decided upon by grouping staffers into different pools and eliminating those with the least seniority. In the critics pool, Johnson, with only 18 months in the job, was the first to go. He was previously at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel for six years; that position was eliminated as well, but not until after he left for Miami.
The Herald’s executive editor reported to Johnson that the hue and cry from the classical music community, which has grown during Johnson’s watch, was “massive.”
“The response has really been heartening,” said Johnson by phone yesterday, “and it makes the situation easier to deal with. There’s a lot more going on in South Florida than anyone would think. I’m going to do my best to make sure these groups continue to get coverage, even if it’s on a different platform.”
To that end, he has started a new blog: classicalsouthflorida.blogspot.com.
Commented Patrick Quigley, artistic director of Seraphic Fire, a professional chamber choir, “We have a vibrant music community in South Florida, in no small part because of Larry’s coverage.”
Howard Herring, President and CEO of the New World Symphony called Johnson “an informed, articulate critical voice.” He lamented that the Herald won’t have a “dedicated voice” to cover South Florida’s emerging and established companies “in a period when this city is experiencing unprecedented investment in its cultural infrastructure. Miami is but one of a growing list of American cities without a music critic on staff at their primary local newspaper. This is a national problem, and I am talking with my colleagues around the country about old and new media solutions.”
The Palm Beach Post is also cutting its staff, by 300. Classical writers there declined to comment, apparently because their status is in limbo. For now.
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Thu Jun 26, 2008
at 11:22 pm