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March 3, 2008

Endangered dance species...another critic bites the dust

Lewis Segal, chief dance critic for the Los Angeles Times, learned Friday that the paper will no longer support a full-time dance critic. His position is being eliminated. This after a week in which he wrote three feature-length reviews, a Sunday piece and a long obit.
 
In a city where dance riddles the inner sanctums of churches, temples, community centers, clubs, gymnasiums and zocalos, to say nothing of the nearly 280 legit performance spaces in mainstream theaters, large, mid-sized and small -- this signals a gigantic disconnect between the people and press.
 
Writes Segal, who has been in the post since 1996 and written about dance for the LAT for 12 years before that:
 
"...my position is being eliminated in the latest round of of staff layoffs and cutbacks...I have followed my supervisors' advice and applied for the Times buyout, which means I'll be off the staff as of the end of this month. However, there is some talk about my freelancing for the paper in the future."
 
Segal's intrepid and passionate coverage extends to nearly every part of the globe; he is by common consensus one of the most widely travelled arts writers of his generation. It's safe to say that the open, porous and welcoming embrace Angelenos now have particularly for non-Western forms is due to him.
 
This news comes right as Los Angeles Ballet is making a dent, right as it looks like there might be a relevant and exciting classical company finally anchored in this city. It comes when TV dance shows electrify viewerships and for good reason. Right when there are more languages spoken here than ever before and we must depend on dance watchers to decipher and translate culture from Other to Other. Segal is the right man, the best man, for this job -- and his loss is worth protesting on many fronts.
 
You can contact Segal at LewisSegal@aol.com  
March 3, 2008 5:15 PM | | Comments (15)

15 Comments

Yes, it's insane how quickly full-time positions at dailies are disappearing. We just had 40-something layoffs at the Inquirer last week. Good news for those of us who freelance, but really bad for news outlets looking for a dedicated, knowledgeable stable of critics. Publishers are doing themselves such a disservice, as freelancers are free agents and will go where the money is. Guess where it isn't: newspapers. How is a readership supposed to align itself with a critic's sensibilities if the critics are as disposable as the paper?

The problem is that papers don't know how to get the most out of their arts journalists. If any group is bursting with inspiration, it's got to be people who cover the arts. With creative supplemental online coverage, newspapers could be getting twice as much bang for their critic's health care/401k buck, but alas, try telling them!

I don't understand why, in the current climate of hyper-localization, newspapers are jettisoning local arts beats as if they're radioactive. Thorough arts coverage isn't just a public-service obligation -- it also makes good economic sense, though most old-media bean counters don't see it that way. I wrote about this issue recently ("Now, more than ever, newspapers need arts coverage") in my paper's Arts Blog: www.ocregister.com/artsblog

It is so sad that I generally have to look to the New York Times for consistant coverage of dance - not only in New York, but dance all over the world. Now, with the lay off of Lewis Segal, a strong dance voice is gone, and Los Angeles will be further pushed into the darkness relating to dance and support of our home grown companies.
Double sad that the Los Angeles Ballet is losing a great supporter. I wish Mr. Segal all the best, and hope he will continue to lend his voice where he can, as often as he can, and as strongly and singularly as he has. Who can forget "Ten Reasons why I hate Ballet"? Provocative reading that only a person passionate about dance could write.
Mpambo Wina

The situation of the LAT doesn't surprise me, helas. As a french and theatre dance critic working for 18 years for the french daily Newspaper France Soir, I have been eliminated two years ago, as all my friends of the Art service. France Soir is now a poor letter compared to what it was in the 60's (1,5 million readers). Nowadays in France, there is no more dance critics in a full-time job. Both le Figaro (the first daily newspaper in France) and l'Express (the first weekly newspaper) decided in 2007 to ask the theatre critic to cover dance. At the same time, there haven't been as much dance companies and performances in my country!
But who knows editors anywhere in the world who really appreciate and know what dance is?

This breaks my heart. Lewis is a Los Angeles institution.

In the same batch of e-mail that brought his news came word that my rates as an arts freelancer at New York's METRO are being cut 25 percent, and that the frequency of my reviews is being reduced.


Arts reviews will, inevitably, find a home on the Web. People who look for them will find them. The sad thing about these developments is that random newspaper readers, the kind of people who just scan what's in front of them, are less and less likely to stumble upon information that might lead them to try a new experience, head out to a dance performance or a play.

Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I love being presented with an edited collection of what smart journalists think is interesting on a given day. That mix must needs include the arts, especially the local arts.

It is a loss for the cultural vibrancy of LA, just when LA was emerging as a viable west coast center for dance, and possibly even a reason to drop the LA Times in favor of the NY Times...

It is so sad what is going on with arts/cultural coverage. As an entertainment/dance publicist in NYC; I experience weekly less coverage ocurring. What the LA Times did has happen here with their sister publication, Newsday. Lewis thanks for all that you have done.
Wishing and hoping for better times ahead!

This is bad news on a number of levels. As the father of a student ballerina, I've been out there trying to rouse up awareness of ballet in the community. We're all fighting this battle, everyone who loves the arts. The only reason I'm moderately cultured is that I grew up in an America where the fine arts were given respect and a decent airing on the evening TV shows. But that's gone. The folks who fired Lewis Segal are the same tinhorns throughout the national media who shrug and say, "Cheap pop culture is getting the numbers, baby, so we're headed that way."

I found out about this in faraway Lewiston, Maine in a discussion with the arts correspondent for PBS' Newshour, Jeffrey Brown. At a time when our society is being deluged with uninformed noise, Mr. Segal's voice was calm, clear and rich with experience. When someone like that is silenced, our culture suffers.

As I contemplate the loss of Lewis Segal from the ranks of the LA Times I feel profoundly grateful for his enormous contribution to our field over the years. Some artists may not have appreciated his comments about their work, but no one would argue about his dedication to his profession and his love of dance. I so appreciate his concern for history and cultural context, his range of interests that go beyond the western canon genre or aesthetic, and the fact that he really held his ground over many management changeovers. I think we are marking the end of an era, moving on to a time of the freelance writer who cannot maintain a presence or influence within the inner circle of editorial decisions. To Lewis I take my hat off and say thank you for the thousands of column inches you gave to dance and the tens of thousands of hours you gave to writing about and attending dance concerts.

What an unfortunate turn of events.
We must do everything we can to
assure the future of dance.

Stephanie Ballard
Winnipeg Dance Preservation Initiative

THIS PAST MAY, a flurry of emails (started by me) went around regarding the potential loss of dance coverage at LA Times. I am including these because I feel it was important: the passionate response from LA artists & writers, as well as the speedy reply from the publisher ["we steadfastly support dance and our coverage reflects it and will continue to do so.".. bla bla bla] names have been omitted to protect the living. - Meg

---------

Date: Tue, 14 May 2007 / Subject: LA Times dance writing

dancers, dance-makers, dance-lovers,
Please take a moment to writer a letter to the publisher of the LA Times: Dxyz

In a recent talk with X at -- College, it was mentioned The Times will be cutting about 150 jobs. There is a strong possibility that this may be the end of dance coverage in Los Angeles newspapers. If this concerns you, please send your thoughts to D. I'm including my letter below for reference. -Meg
___________________________________________________________

Dear D,
I understand that there are some changes happening at the Los Angeles Times and a number of jobs will likely be cut.

I am writing to encourage you and the LA Times to keep the dance writers on board. Their writing is vital to the visibility of dance in Los Angeles. Without the LA Times, there will be no coverage of LA-based companies (or any other dance company that comes to LA).

There are many challenges faced by this artistic community. At the same time, the dance scene is growing here, and represents the diverse cultural make-up of L.A. - from traditional dance groups to experimental cross-disciplinary artists. Many of these artists also feed into the commercial dance video and movie industry.

If anything, there are not enough writers to cover the range of dance happening in this city! Not only would I encourage you to keep the current dance writers on board, I would suggest hiring more.

Sincerely yours,
Meg Wolfe
Choreographer, Performer, Curator
-----------------------------

Subject: LA Times dance writing / Date: Tue, 15 May 2007
>
Dear Mr. D,
I have heard that The Times will be cutting about 150 jobs. I understand with all the changes going on internally and in the world of newspapers, that change is essential. So is culture. Los Angeles is a rich stew of creativity that feeds the larger industries of film and tourism. The city's artists educate young people and support each other's work as fellow artists, audience members and critics. But we need independent voices to see our work and comment on it, to be a part of the community of dancers that is blossoming in new ways, crossing genres, mixing forms. We need skilled journalists to be a part of this process at all levels of media, from the fringe to the mainstream. Most importantly, the city's dance community needs its paper of record to be part of the process.

Please do not stop covering dance in Los Angeles. Keep your writers on and find other ways to shape the relationship so it's not an all or nothing proposition.
Sincerely, K
----------

Dear D,
I am writing to you with great concern as I understand that dozens of jobs will be cut at the LA Times. It is vital that the dance journalism positions and editorial space given to these journalists be maintained!
A strong, diverse and comprehensive newspaper (especially in regards to the arts) is vital to Los Angeles maintaining its influence on the cultural, artistic and visionary edge. The dance writers and writing have already been cut back and thus many popular, acclaimed, and culturally/politically charged works were left "off the radar".
Keeping the public informed is the main function of the newspaper and dance represents a vibrant and influential fiber to the cultural manifestation of arts in LA.

As a dance educator I see that discourse on performance is a necessary element for growth of artists and thus the impact Los Angeles artists have on the rest of the country and the world.

As a dance-maker, I know that discourse and dance journalism catalyze the public to venture into the unknown and take a chance on emerging or cutting-edge dance/performance.

This in turn stimulates economic growth and the continued education of young, developing artists. The Los Angeles Times should be the first place youth turn as a reference and informant on the growing community.

Eliminating writers and dance/performance coverage will actually reduce your readership and subscribers....And in the attempt to save money, you'd be losing it instead.

I am convinced that by actually increasing the amount of journalism, criticism, and features on the arts, your organization would boost its impact, readership, and respect it receives.

I encourage you to become an activist in the arts in Los Angeles by maintaining the jobs these writers have and find other areas/expenses to reduce! To tighten the belt on the arts is to squeeze the life out of LA!
Most Sincerely, M
--------

RE: LA Times dance writing / Date: Mon, 14 May 2007

Dear D,
It has come to my attention that there may be a reduction in staff at the LA Times and that this could potentially limit the coverage of dance. This may be the final blow to dance and the performing arts in this city. It is bad enough our mayor dismisses the arts as dessert after the meal. It is bad enough that the restructured Times consistently confuses film industry gossip with news about culture. But to reduce the little bit there is of intelligent reviews and commentary by writers such as Lewis Segal and Victoria Looseleaf, will so jeopardize funding for the performing arts community that dance companies may have no choice but to pack up and move out. Please support our fragile performing arts community by giving it the attention it deserves. LA is a cultural destination, a town packed with some of the best talent in the world - let's keep it that way. Thanks, H
---------------------

RE: LA Times writers / Date: Mon, 14 May 2007

Hi,
Thanks for writing me about our dance coverage in The Times. It's an important part of the arts and culture world here, so I was concerned that there was a question about our commitment. I checked in with [ J ], our lead Editor for all features coverage, and have included his note back to me.

Thanks for getting in touch, and for being a reader! D
------------------------------------------

Sent: Monday, May 14, 2007 2:34 PM / Subject: RE: LA Times dance writers

D,
We have no plans to scale back on dance coverage--in fact, our Arts Editor plans to increase it in Sunday Calendar. The goal has been to include pieces each week in the section. Our daily Calendar report also continues to offer lively reviews and features on a regular basis. Right now is a lively time for this discipline: New companies have been formed; several major companies are coming through; and a lot of innovative work is being down in small venues, as well. From the quick research I've done, I think this stems from a misinterpretation of information disseminated from one of our freelance contributors. In any event, we steadfastly support dance and our coverage reflects it and will continue to do so.
Best, J
----------

> Sent: Monday, May 14, 2007 12:12 PM

Hi, Meg:
Thanks for writing the letter. I've been in San Francisco over the weekend and have just returned. Wow - I was glad you rcd. such a quick response and only feel bad that they think "a freelancer has been disseminating misinformation - and hope they're not gonna axe me.

Long live dance in L.A. Best, X
-------------

Subject: please do not email any more letters / Date: Tue, 15 May 2007

Hi, Meg:
Please email all of your people and tell them to NOT EMAIL ANY MORE LETTERS TO THE L.A. TIMES - to the publisher or anyone. It has put me in an awkward position.
Thank you. Please let me know that you have done this. Best, X
-----------

RE: LA Times writers / Date: Tue, 15 May 2007

Dear D,
Thank you for your quick reply. I'm glad to hear that dance coverage will be continuing at the Times, and that it was merely a misunderstanding on my part. You probably have received several letters from other dance artists about this....as you can see, we are a committed and vocal community! Sincerely, Meg Wolfe
----------

> Date: Tue, 15 May 2007

Hi all, I have been informed/notified by a staff Times writer that the 150 job cuts will be actually (only?) 70. Just wanting all to know. I think it's good to let the paper know how important dance is, but perhaps the threat isn't as dire??? Stay tuned.... M
-----

Subject: Re: please do not email any more letters / Date: Tue, 15 May 2007

hi X, just got home from work & got your phone message & this, spoke w/M, who put the word out to her folks... I am emailing everyone now. I am SO sorry for any problems this causes for you. certainly NOT the intention!!!!! Let me know if there is any other damage control I can do. Meg
---------

Subject: Re: no more letters, please. Dance coverage at LA Times not at risk
Date: Thu, 17 May 2007
--- megwolfe@att.net wrote:
> Hi everyone,
Stop the presses. It seems I have been overzealous in my efforts at advocacy, and misinterpreted some information.

If you have not yet heard, the latest news is this: There is no need to write any more letters to the Times regarding the cut-backs at LA Times. Please, DO NOT SEND ANY MORE LETTERS at this time.

Dance coverage, as it turns out, is not at risk of being eliminated. There has been a reply letter sent from the publisher that states the paper has "no plans on cutting dance".

The latest information is that the dance coverage will not be cut, and they are planning more coverage in the Sunday Calendar. They are aware of how much dance is growing here and how vital it is to represent it in the press.

I think everyone appreciates how vocal and pro-active the dance community is as well as how much we all value the dance coverage in the LA Times. Thanks to everyone who let their opinions be heard by writing your concern for maintaining these jobs, and thus the artistic growth of Los Angeles.
Sincerely, Meg Wolfe
-----------

Date: Thu, 17 May 2007
One can never be overzealous -- turn people towards Arts for LA*, with Danielle Brazell -- we need the overzelous for a while to get some things done in LA. L
--------

Date: Thu, 17 May 2007
Dear Meg,
I can understand the panic, as the new owner of the Times is not exactly Mr. Cultural. Every time the paper is redefined, I get a little queasy. It had a 20% profit margin before the sale, but the greedy owners wanted 30%, to buoy their other interests. I have no idea what's happening now, but I just hope they don't kill the golden goose. B
------

RE: no more letters, please. / Date: Thu, 17 May 2007

> Meg,
We responded to what was perceived as an extreme emergency. There needs to be a better way to verify sources and not deplete/embarrass our community.
I certainly feel no blame towards you and the outpouring was fantastic, just a gentle reminder that we need to be careful and select our priorities or our credibility may be questioned. H
--------

RE: no more letters, please. / Date: Thu, 17 May 2007

hi H, Just to clarify, I sent my letter based on information from a reputable source, and from whom I received D's e-mail address. I was expressing concern at the possibility for cutting dance coverage (which has been shrinking, and disappearing, from papers around the country).

I'm not sure where the "misinterpretation" came in, or if I was supposed to just write my little letter and not suggest others might do the same....but the letters from the community that I saw (including your own) were all thoughtful and passionate responses, and I think it is a positive thing that our voices were heard, not an embarrassment. All best, Meg

please visit *http://www.artsforla.org for advocacy info!

There is a positive epidemic of dance critic sackings, unceremonious, even cruel. What is the source of this hostility to art-making? Who runs these newspapers? Wolves?

Why not start our own weekly newspaper with lots of writing on dance?

I am thankful to Mr Lewis Segal for his unconditional service to dance. He embraced and wrote about world cultures and traditions with depth and respect. Our company has grown artistically and in other ways as a result of his constructive feedback and support. It is difficult to imagine LA Times Theatre and Dance coloumns without Mr Segal's contributions.
We remain grateful!
Malathi Iyengar & Rangoli Dance Company.

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