Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Great City Deserves a Great Publication

Unless you, like Fairdale Bigfoot, live under a rock, you heard the news that Gannett absolutely gutted the Courier-Journal yesterday, laying off 50 employees, 24 of them editorial staff. Goodbye Velocity, goodbye a lot of the Neighborhood coverage.  Arts and uber-local reporting... gutted.

As Roommate tweeted today: "From out here in the docks, it looks like the @courierjournal has become 'Sports Unillustrated.'"

And apologies to the terrific sports staff at the C-J, especially those I am "twitter friends" with, but yes... Roommate is right.  I don't know if any of the sports staff got the sack, but it has long irked me that when you pull up the C-J website, the very first section is sports.  Before local news. Shows you where the editorial priorities are.  And I love sports, I do. But that's embarrassing.

I'm not fool enough to believe that the C-J made that layout choice in a vacuum. I know I live in a sports-obsessed town, and most of the time I'm pleased as punch that I do. But it is a decision, and it's a terrible one in my opinion. If newspapers were all about catering to the masses, every paper would be People Magazine, or at best USA Today-- all Kardashians and Fantasy Football.

Anyway, based on the unscientific evidence of my Twitter feed, lots of Louisvillagers were just heartbroken about this decision. And I was surprised how very hard I took it myself.  I only know one of the laid-off editorial staffers (I think) personally. So this wasn't about just hurting very badly for a friend (although, I was).  And honestly, I haven't subscribed to the paper for years (before you say I'm part of the problem: [a] we all know subscription money doesn't keep papers in business and [b] I read it regularly online). I've always been disappointed with the C-J, especially coming here from New Orleans when the Times-Picayune was cranking out its post-Katrina consistent brilliance.

But I felt sad for personal reasons too. My first job out of college was as the Assistant to the Editor of this newspaper. (I'd never been to the website before. I briefly got insanely excited when I saw the archive section... but the archives start 10 years after I worked there, give or take.) In addition to running around doing crazy errands for the Diva Editor, I also worked as an entertainment reporter.  My "beat"?  Foxwoods Casino.  Highlights of my job: interviewing Tom Jones and Ted Neeley ("Jesus" from Jesus Christ Superstar), writing my only front-page piece about the music scene in Mystic, CT, and covering the Mashantucket Pequot tribe's cultural news.  I hated every part of my job except the arts reporting. I loved the arts reporting. And occasionally when I get antsy about my chosen field (as I am right now), I kick myself for not pursuing that as my career (hence, this blog).

And Gannett mauled its arts reporting today.

A great city deserves a great publication. And we just don't have one.

Normally I would say: "I may be biased because I know this person personally and can't distance myself from her work." But no. I won't add that disclaimer. One of the laid-off editorial staff was Erin Keane, and I can empirically say that she was one of the best, if not the best, writers at the C-J. Her arts reporting was grown-up, sophisticated writing for readers who were invested in the fabulous Louisville arts scene. Her articles were beautifully-conceived, well-researched, and often challenging.  I will fess up to having to employ a couple of times when her diction eluded me. When I finally met her after reading her reporting for a while, I was honestly a little fan-girly.  Hell, how many times over the years have I written a theater review and linked to her review and said, "I can't say it better than Erin Keane already did"??

For the C-J to lay off its most literate and literary writer?-- it's an insult to the readership.

My heart broke for her, personally.  But my heart breaks for this city.

I'll say it again. A great city deserves a great publication. And we just don't have one.

The LEO is... fine.  I admit, I read it rarely.  I don't know what the general public sentiment is, but my gut says that it went a bit south post-Stephen George and when it went glossy (and when it lost Phillip M. Bailey to WFPL).  Louisville Magazine has a stable of solid writers but only features a handful of good articles each month.  I don't think anyone would argue with me if I said that the magazine was 85% advertising of some kind. There's some quality reporting being done on some of the local blogs, but no one in their right mind would call it quality writing.

It was a sad day for Louisville.  And a disconcerting day for me.  I never in a blue moon thought that I would remake myself as an arts reporter this late in my life, but to discover that the newspaper in my city had such a low regard for arts and local reporting... terrible.


EEK! said...

Lou, I am really touched by this post. I am overwhelmed by the support and love we've received in the last 24 hours from our community. They've left the features dept. so understaffed that there's no way they'll be able to cover the arts scene, even the top organizations, with any depth or even the frequency we could before. Everyone suffers when we don't have meaningful interpretation, criticism, and discovery happening in the press. And that makes me really, really sad for Louisville. Best of luck to everyone who's left over there. Best of luck to Louisville's arts organizations. And thank you so much, Lou, for your kind words and your support.

M. Ray Robinson said...

Brava - well said!