Monday, February 24, 2014

On Slamming the Media for Only Covering the Bad News about Orchestras

Last week on Polyphonic.org, Robert Levine criticized the "news business" for not reporting, as reported in the Journal Sentinel, that the Milwaukee Symphony had raised $5 million in emergency funds to pay off debt and balance its budget. Levine also has a piece of advice:
(M)ost of what you read about orchestras is crap. At the very best, it’s one-sided – bad news is sexier than good news, and weird news is more interesting than important news.
 A few thoughts here:

1) I don't know where Levine gets his reportage, but when there is good news, people write about it. I've read interesting and heartening stories in the last few months about the Kansas City Symphony, the Baltimore Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra (also here), and the Detroit Symphony.

2) Journalists' jobs aren't to be cheerleaders for their hometown orchestras, and they can provide a great service by critically examining the goings on of what are, after all, local civic organizations. The Detroit Symphony and Minnesota Orchestra labor conflicts were hard to read about, but they do provide valuable case studies in orchestra management that we can learn from going forward. Sometimes we need to hear bad news.

3) If we get the occasional "classical music is dead" article, that's the price we pay for engaging in a cultural practice that celebrates music written deep in the past. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but don't expect people to ignore it.