The Shreveport Times: How Coverage Should Unfold

The 3/27/2008 edition of the Shreveport Times published an article by Donecia Pea which provides a comprehensive look at the ongoing labor dispute between the Shreveport Symphony Orchestra (SSO) and the symphony musicians, the Orchestra Players United of Shreveport-Bossier (OPUS). After wading through the less than desirable coverage of the Columbus situation provided by the Columbus Dispatch, it is a welcome relief to see some evenhanded reporting…

Better still, the paper provides links to every related article on the topic published by the Times as well as outbound links to websites related to organizations mentioned in the article and even links to pdf files of public statements from the SSO and OPUS. All in all, it’s a very comprehensive article and a great place to catch up on the situation if you’re walking in for the first time (regardless if you’re a Shreveport local or not).

Speaking of catching up on the situation, the SSO and OPUS have been engaged in play-and-talk negotiations for the entire 2007/08 season, meaning the previous contract has expired but both sides have agreed to continue producing the current season under the terms of the expired agreement until a new agreement is reached. As the end to the current season approaches, both sides have ramped up public relations efforts in order to attract supporters.

At the heart of the current dispute is the SSO board’s proposed financial plan to eliminate all existing salaried musicians and replace those positions with per service agreements. The result is that the annual compensation for all salaried musicians, who currently earn approximately $12,500 per season, would fall to about $3,200 per season. The SSO board has been attempting to spin attention away from the large salary cuts by saying that although they want to eliminate all salaried musicians they want to provide a per service pay raise from $60 to $75 by the end of the proposed five year contract. It isn’t clear where this strategy originated but the SSO board would be better off if they stopped trying to perform the “pay no attention to the man behind the screen” act.

Speaking of PR strategy, the SSO has revamped their homepage once again. Gone is the awkwardly formatted public statement and although the homepage now contains a graphic and link to their next concert event, immediately below that are lists of links to public statements from the board president as well as some links to their consultant’s final report. The homepage also contains a link to the Flanagan report under the heading “helpful links” and although I would think that the SSO is attempting to cite the report in an attempt to help their position the only thing it will likely help is OPUS’ PR efforts.

I have yet to come across a favorable review of the report as one prominent voice after another across traditional (e.g. Andrew Druckenbrod) and new (e.g. Robert Levine) media outlets continue to pan the report and its conclusions. Why the SSO would want to associate their proposed financial plan with the Flanagan report is a real mystery but then again, so is spinning a $9,300 pay cut into a pay raise.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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