A Word To The Wise?

In case you haven’t checked the headlines out in the past week, you should be aware of the fact that Cleveland Plain Dealer critic, Don Rosenberg, filed a lawsuit against key figures in the Cleveland Orchestra. According to the 12/11/08 edition of the New York Times in an article by Dan Wakin, Rosenberg charged that orchestra officials had waged a “campaign of vilification” against him and that his bosses at the newspaper had caved in to demands that he be ousted…

A word to the wise consider a wide range of dynamic consequences before exerting overt pressure on media outlets.
A word to the wise: consider a wide range of dynamic consequences before exerting overt pressure on media outlets.

Cleveland Orchestra officials named in Rosenberg’s suit include Cleveland Orchestra executive director Gary Hanson, chairman and president Richard Bogomolny, and board member and former president James Ireland III. Given the highly charged nature of this entire situation (Wakin’s article sums up events if you aren’t already familiar) it would be surprising to see this drift away.

Although officials such as Hanson have publicly denied any involvement in the Plain Dealer’s decision to reassign Rosenberg, it just goes to show that orchestra board and administrative leaders need to consider a wide range of dynamic consequences related to exerting overt pressure on media outlets.

If you extrapolate this concept to a larger level it demonstrates how the business, in general, could benefit reexamining the self defeating policy of “all news must be good news” in favor or something more in tune with current levels of acceptable levels of moderated, new media discourse. There’s more on this topic in some related articles from earlier this year and 2006.

In the meantime, there is no shortage of online opinion on the matter but there isn’t much from orchestra managers, although that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. If Rosenberg prevails in his lawsuit, it could spell big trouble for Hanson and board leaders. Even worse, it could tarnish the credibility and reputation of one of the finest orchestras in the country (if not the world). Nevertheless, I’m curious to know what managers think so don’t be shy about weighing in via a comment (yes, you can leave it under a moniker but use common sense and don’t submit anything over the line – it won’t get posted anyway).

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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4 thoughts on “A Word To The Wise?

  1. Bea Vradenberg, who ran the Colorado Springs Symphony for 35 years, once sent a letter to the editor complaining about bad reviews. The publisher, after the next concert, printed a big box of white space with this in the center (not verbatim): “The Manager of our Symphony doesn’t like the reviews we print, so this is what she’ll get from now on.” Ultimately, she had to eat crow to have the reviews reinstated.

    The situation in Cleveland is a weird reversal of that. The chicken-hearted Plain Dealer editor should have stood behind his reporter, period. But, if Symphony officials did wage a campaign against Rosenberg, they got what they deserve.

    In a high profile, public service organization, it goes without saying, you have to “do the right thing” at all times. Going after someone’s job, anyone’s job, is the wrong thing.

    Finally, all due respect to reviewers, in 26 years in the business, I never saw a review, good or bad, seriously effect ticket sales. They simply don’t have that much power. I think they think they’re like movie reviewers, when in fact they’re more like book reviewers, catering to a much less pliable audience.

    • With regard to the “chicken-hearted editor,” that’s an interesting perspective and one I would love to be a fly on the wall in a room full of critics and cultural reporters. You can’t expect your employees to have any faith in the organiziation if the boss sells them out at a drop of the hat. Then again, some might interpret that as being part of larger a passive-aggressive strategy.

  2. I was astonished by what the orchestra’s lawyer said, as quoted in the Times. He more or less admitted that the orchestra had pressure the Plain Dealer to can Rosenberg or remove him from the CO beat. I am not a lawyer and I’m smart enough not to say that to a reporter.

    Plenty of good comments in the blogosphere; I blogged the situation, and Matthew Guerrier at Soho the Dog had some extremely funny, right-on comments.

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