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The Buzz, 3-7: Stop your Sobbing
L.A. Times Eliminates its Dance Critic

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2008 Paul Ben-Itzak

(Dance Insider FlashBlast e-mail club members got this news earlier this week by e-mail. To receive the Dance Insider's free daily FlashBlast, click here then press send.)

So one of the largest newspapers in the United States, based in the entertainment capital of the world, has decided that it cannot justify having one single solitary full-time dance critic on staff. Lewis Segal, the hardest working and most prodigious dance critic and reporter in the United States, has been told by his management at the Los Angeles Times that his position, that of dance critic, is being eliminated. On his supervisors' advice, Segal has applied for a buy-out; buy-out staffers are supposed to be gone by the end of the month. (Segal's supervisors also said they hoped he would freelance for the paper.)

The decision is hardly a surprise. In recent years, two Editors of the Times have quit or been fired for refusing to make more cuts in the paper's staff. Indeed, the Times is the poster child for the major malady afflicting publicly owned newspapers in the U.S. From the days when family-owned newspapers saw the calling as a civic responsibility, the stock-holder now rules; the dividend is king so the bottom line is paramount. That doesn't just mean newspapers need to not lose money; it means they need to make plenty of it. Rather than talent, employees, including journalists, are seen as simply cost centers; little surprise that no matter his talent, a journalist whose beat is the least respected by editors would be considered dispensable.

I lament that one of our best has lost a gig he earned 100 times over; I lament that his community and the wider national and global dance community will be deprived of reading him and benefiting from his intrepid reporting in this outlet; I lament that a once great newspaper continues its descent. But I don't think your protests will help. It is time for readers and journalists and above all dancers who truly are invested in the importance of dance to create and fund their own outlets and to support through their own work and donations existing independent, non-corporate, dancer-driven publications. I hope that if he's so inclined, Segal will choose the route of his fired Times colleague Robert Scheer, who went on to start Truthdig, an essential independent journalistic muckracker on the Web, and I hope that the dance community in Los Angeles will support him in this endeavor (and stop buying the Times.)

Because for the dance community, it's time to stop complaining.

It's time to stop whining.

It's time to make like the extraordinary team we're fortunate to have here at the Dance Insider and stop waiting for someone else to do it for you.

If you are unhappy with the shrinking quantity and quality of dance coverage in the United States, go out and make some of your own and support those of us who are already doing so, and have been doing so -- in the case of the Dance Insider -- for ten years, with only a handful of you showing that it matters. (I apologize to Lew Segal; I wish I could write about this subject objectively, but I cannot.)


(The Times's decision was first reported by Sasha Anawalt on the blog of the National Arts Journalism Program.)


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