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Flash View, 5-18: Dance Magazine's New Loyalty Oath
...And One Writer's Response

(Editor's Note: The following opinion piece is followed by a response to the new Dance Magazine policy from Debra Cash, a veteran Boston-based dance writer.)

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2001 The Dance Insider

Back in the 1950s, they called it the "Red Scare." Employees were asked to sign loyalty oaths stating, "I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the Communist Party." Lives were ruined. Afraid of losing their incomes, colleagues ratted out colleagues. (Dance's own Jerome Robbins was among those who named names.)

Earlier this week, Dance Magazine, once the most distinguished and respected dance publication in the United States, sent a letter to its part-time contributors that is the equivalent of a loyalty oath. Specifically, the letter, from an assistant to DM's new editor in chief K.C. Patrick, asks the writers to complete the following questions: (The letter is signed by "kcp" and by Heidi Landgraf, Patrick's assistant, and asks that responses be sent to Ms. Patrick.)

"Please check or fill in the correct information below.

( ) I am not on the masthead of any competing dance publication.

( ) I am on the masthead of a competing dance publication. ŠPlease remove my name from the DM masthead."

Elsewhere, the letter from Dance Magazine states, "... anyone whose name appears on the masthead of a competing publication please ask to be removed from ours."

In essence -- in my opinion, i.e. my reading of the above -- the implied threat, even if it is not directly stated, is that dance journalists who write for publications DM considers to be its competition should not expect to write for Dance Magazine. The writers they are telling this to are people who have worked for them for longer than the current owners and editors, and for very little money. To make ends meet -- and to spread the gospel of dance -- these writers write for several publications. They don't make ends meet from what they earn from DM and others. One of the few perks they've gotten is nice titles on mastheads. I can tell you this as a former editor of DM. Now the new editor of DM is telling them they can't even have this unless they devote themselves solely to DM.

Because these writers love dance so much, they will probably take it.

Folks, this ain't right. It's a loyalty oath, pure and simple. From a company that, particularly in the last two years since it announced plans to move to Oakland, has shown very little loyalty to its employees. (I.e., the employees who lost their jobs when the company moved, and subsequent employees like editor Janice Berman, ignobly fired by the magazine's publisher. Ms. Berman would never have let such a letter go out.)

I urge my colleagues at Dance Magazine to re-consider this demand.

I urge dance advertisers to support publications -- like Ballet Review, Pointe, Dance Teacher, the dance section of the Village Voice, the dance section of Time Out NY, the Sunday dance section of the New York Times, and The Dance Insider -- that treat their writers (and readers) with respect. As good citizens of the dance and dance journalism communities, the editors and owners of these publications realize that it can only redound positively for them when their contributors write for several publications. (Dance companies understand this: If anything, the many press releases I get are quick to BOAST about the other affiliations their dancers have. E.g., "Tami Stronach's concert, featuring Tony Ramos {Petronio, Dendy Dance}.") They realize that, if anything, it reflects positively on them to have the names of devoted dance journalists like Kate Mattingly (who is on the mastheads of both Dance Magazine and Dance Teacher) on their mastheads. They would NEVER threaten to remove them from their mastheads because they are on the masthead of another publication. Quite the contrary: Whenever any of us discover a new dance writer, we are quick to share him/her with our colleagues. We realize that it is in the best interests of the writer to do so. And of dance.

Debra Cash's letter to Dance Magazine editor K.C. Patrick:

Dear K.C. Patrick,

As someone who first wrote for Dance Magazine in 1973 and has been a working critic ever since (currently for National Public Radio out of the Boston office of WBUR) I must express my dismay about your new policy which states "anyone whose name appears on the masthead of a competing publication please ask to be removed from ours."

Perhaps you were not aware of the implications of such a request. Until you are in a position to pay contributors a living wage and benefits in exchange for their full-time availability, you should not be asking writers or photographers for exclusive commitments. What you are doing is called restraint of trade. It is illegal in most states.

Certainly you are well within your rights to ask that a given critic who say, reviews the Royal Ballet "Swan Lake"-- which I will do in a few weeks -- not submit the same review to another publication in your target market. However, a person who submits a review to you is legally free to submit a preview or a feature on the same topic to another publication--whether that is a publication devoted solely to dance or any other outlet, in print, broadcast or on the internet. Retaining such rights is how freelancers make a living.

This letter is being circulated to a number of places including the Dance Insider, the National Writers Union, and the American Society of Media Photographers who will disseminate it widely. I hope that you are aware that unless you change your policies soon, many excellent contributors will no longer be able to be part of your enterprise. For all of us, that will be a shame.

I hope that you will reconsider this policy and get back to me with the text of your new contract as soon as possible.

Sincerely,

Debra Cash

 

(Editor's note: If you would like to tell K.C. Patrick what you think of this new policy, e-mail kcpatrick@dancemagazine.com.)

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