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.

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