What’s in the Daily News? Not much. The New York Post? Plenty — as long as your obsessions are trends, bold-face names and right-wing harangues. As for coverage of the things that make New York New York — the theater, dance, art, music and movies that make all those bankers and lawyers and doctors want to actually live here — changes at both tabloids are showing mind-blowing indifference, not to say hostility, to any written product that can’t be commodified as click bait on the web.
At the Post, a redesign of the features section now ghettoizes arts coverage to Fridays. Among other headline-worthy occurrences, that means that plugged-in Broadway columnist Michael Riedel has been cut back to one column a week, instead of two — odd since Riedel is the Page Six of theater news, followed and love-hated by the most powerful people on the New York/Hollywood entertainment axis. (He will, however, get a full page to work with, I’m told. And his book Razzle Dazzle, just published, should help salve any wounds). I’m willing to bet this all portends less coverage of non-star-related shows. This at a time when reviews are more necessary than ever for a public being asked to shell out mortgage payments and more for Broadway shows, concerts and the like.
Does The New York Times limit reviews and columns to its Weekend section? Nah. (At least not yet.) Not only are these billion-dollar industries in their own right, they are key to the booming tourism industry that give folks visiting the city something to spend their money on after they’re done shopping.
“I appreciate that times are tough for print media, but I think it’s both irresponsible and shortsighted to diminish an industry that many consider to be the lifeblood of New York City,” says Broadway publicist Rick Miramontez. “That said, only having to endure Michael Riedel once a week will make many of my colleagues and clients happy, I’m sure.”
The situation at the Daily News is even more dire, if that’s possible. I’ve learned that among the crowd of News pros defenestrated last week was chief film critic and editor Joe Neumaier, following the flight plan of music critic Jim Farber and television critic David Hinckley — all bylines with national reputations — along with a beloved and beleaguered crew of features editors on the copy desk. The News‘ thoughtful drama/opera/cabaret critic Joe Dziemianowicz survived the cuts (I’m told; he hasn’t yet returned calls), but I hear that, like the Post, the News will reduce reviews to star-driven shows, while expanding ad-inducing features.
“I’m sorry that I won’t be reviewing the indie films I love to write about for the News,” said Neumaier, a 12 1/2-year veteran of the paper, “and the smaller films that really need coverage.”
The salaries of the forcibly departed doubtless will be diverted to the News‘ expanding web operation, peopled by young (read: cheap and mostly benefits-free) editors and writers. Because working people who buy tabloids don’t need voices of insight and experience to navigate the city’s cultural riches, right?
Of course, here I am at Deadline, having followed the full trajectory of journalism from my days writing for the Soho News (weekly print) to The New York Times (daily print) to Variety (daily and weekly print) to Bloomberg News (online and wire service print found in the oddest places) and now a web-only publication.
“It’s sad, but the truth is, it’s not where the audience is,” Broadway press agent Adrian Bryan-Brown told me. “The relationship with the tabloids has been fun and symbiotic, but audiences don’t read papers anymore. We’re pitching online. Even the most unsophisticated Broadway theatergoers are sophisticated online users.”
I’m no Luddite, and every time I pick up my Sunday Times with a telephone-book size T style section inside (remember telephone books?), I curse the deity (remember the deity?). There should be some honor in losing money on journalism, especially when you live in the Rupert Murdoch/Mort Zuckerman stratosphere and even when the losses reputedly approach $100 million per year (the Post) and $30 million per year (the News). Still, a powerful case remains to be made that the loss of experienced voices and multiple venues of access will only concentrate power (the Times!) and further dumb down the public conversation just when you thought the bar couldn’t get much lower. It ought to be about more than selling tickets and ads.
“It’s like something out of a Paddy Chayefsky film,” Neumaier says. “Although I think even Paddy Chayefsky may have given it a happier ending.” This assumes, of course, that anyone remembers who Paddy Chayefsky was.