Last week's reassignment of Seattle Post-Intelligencer music and dance critic R.M. Campbell to general arts reporter sparked an alarm louder than Mahler in a bad mood. Less than 24 hours after the in-house P-I announcement, Seattle Chamber Music Society's outraged executive director, Connie Cooper, launched an e-mail campaign against P-I management. Cooper e-mailed her board and staff: "The word on the street is that they are eliminating nearly all coverage of classical music and dance, with the exception of the Seattle Opera Gold Cast performances, Seattle Symphony masterpiece series concerts, and Pacific Northwest Ballet. The intention is to cut out single performance events and the focus will be more on events that run for several performances or over multiple weeks." The bottom-line accusation: "The Seattle P-I will be reducing its overall coverage," and even the opera, symphony, and ballet will suffer.
Or not. "The fact is," says P-I Managing Editor David McCumber, "we are not planning to curtail, cut back, or otherwise reduce classical-music coverage." Wrote the newspaper's top editor and publisher, Roger Oglesby, in response to more than 300 complaining e-mails: "Please be assured we are not planning to stop previews and reviews of classical music and dance events. We will continue to carry classical music coverage in What's Happening . . . and in our Life and Arts section."
McCumber promises "more sophisticated, nuanced coverage—profiles, issues stories, arts business stories— as well as reviews and previews. We're re-allocating some staff resources." For reviews, the paper will rely more on freelancers. And will Campbell be contributing to the recalibrated coverage? "I would hope that that's the case, yes," McCumber says. Campbell declined to comment.
Even if the classical crowd winds up with as much coverage as ever, some fret that the switch from a staffer to a freelance critic might signify to readers a lesser commitment to the arts. As a former Seattle Times freelance critic myself, I think freelancers can be just as good as staffers. But a competitor of Campbell's, Seattle Times staff music critic Melinda Bargreen, disagrees: "A reviewer such as Richard Campbell, who has been on this beat for a long time and knows the scene inside out, can give a level of critical assessment that freelancers often can't provide. That kind of critical assessment is vital to the arts community and to readers alike."