Rumours of more arts cuts at the New York Times

Rumours of more arts cuts at the New York Times


norman lebrecht

November 10, 2016

There’s a revamp on the way at Arts and Leisure.

This Deadline report says it will involve even less coverage of local events that are not of interest to online subscribers.

Critics have been urged to stop covering events least likely to appeal to online subscribers: indie movies having brief runs in art houses; one-night-only concerts, off- and off-off-Broadway shows that aren’t star-driven, cabaret performances, and small art galleries. Many of the Times‘ contingent of freelance contributors, who provide much of that coverage, are likely to meet the same fate as the regional freelancers last summer. But even staff critics have been given the same marching orders, telling Deadline they are being pressured more frequently by editors to focus on higher-profile events.

There is no independent confirmation, but it’s looking like a trend.



  • Ross says:

    The NY Times music critics often write verbose articles for performances and modern music that cater to very few people, while ignoring great music played by great musicians for thousands of music lovers.

    I haven’t been a subscriber for several years now.
    I’ve found, over and over, their critics complain about most programs that I enjoy; at they same time, they lavish praise on those who present music that me (and the thousands who enjoyed the other program) would never want to hear.

    • Dan P. says:

      So you dropped your subscription to one of the leading US newspapers because it covered concerts that didn’t interest you and had critics that gave reviews with which you disagreed? And it used too many words to do so?

    • J. says:

      Well, fortunately Darwin was right. You are the living proof of his success

    • Christopher Culver says:

      It’s one thing if you are disappointed that a newspaper fails to cover your preferred music, but if you react so negatively to coverage of different styles than you personally like, then I strongly suspect that you are over the age of 40 (as younger generations have more of a live and let live attitude), and so you are either already outside the key advertising demographic, or rapidly headed that way.

      • Dan P. says:

        Everybody has their own musical preferences and I don’t think that age is the only factor in one’s range of interest. I know many young people who are also very rigid in their interests and that’s their personal business. My only criticism of Ross was that there are more important things to read about in the Times and music reviews seemed to be such a relatively insignificant reason to stop reading it. But that’s his prerogative and shouldn’t be criticized.

        But to get back to the main topic, the Times, like any other publication, is not in a position to spend money (and space) on things that fewer and fewer people care to read about. In any case, the space that the Times currently devotes to classical music is minimal compared to what it was in the 1970s and 80s. Maybe it’s time just to kill it off and be done with it.

      • Ross says:

        That’s my point.
        That this “key demographic” you refer to, is actually tiny.
        Meanwhile, I have been happily attending performances of great music at Carnegie (subscriber), Avery Fisher, and the Met. The concerts I attend seem to be hot events that are enjoyed by thousands of people. I just typed the same thing I typed in my first comment, which you failed to understand.

        • Dan P. says:

          Ross – First off, my apologies for being snarky at your initial post. There was no reason. I don’t like it when people do it here and unfortunately, I gave into the same thing. There was no real excuse. All I can say is that it’s been a bad couple of days – even my dental hygienist was in tears during the Hillary’s concession speech yesterday morning – and we’re all in a bad mood. You shouldn’t have to explain to anyone why you subscribe or not to anything.

          In any case, I stopped looking at the Times music pages some time ago when they stopped including much in they way of classical music. I like – and go to – the big events as well (but the Met is a constant disappointment) but I like the small events as well – some can be quite surprising. And, I’ll agree with you to this point, the level of writing at the Times hasn’t been very high for a very long time – I guess it’s been aiming lower and lower. In general though, the Times is still largely the great paper it once was. And there isn’t much left in NYC good or bad.

        • MWnyc says:

          So basically what you’re saying is that, for your preference, the NY Times has been covering too many concerts at Miller Theater and National Sawdust and Le Poisson Rouge* and not enough at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center?

          It sounds like the upcoming changes are likely to change that balance in your favor. Possibly with more coverage of London and Paris as well.

          – – – – – – –

          I was going to add Music Before 1800 and Trinity Church Wall Street to the list, but the NY Times has already cut back on covering them.

          • Ross says:

            I don’t mind if they cover those niche concerts in the smaller venues, often single performances, with anywhere from a few dozen to a few hundred attending, for a single performance.
            It’s the overall attitude, particularly coming from the chief critic, that thousands of people attending multiple performances of great old works is somehow irrelevant, but that the niche concerts are cultural jewels in comparison. It’s the continuous outpouring of utter nonsense that the biggest arts organizations need to “take chances”, which is code for bleeding away millions on projects that drive away their core audiences. They are woefully out of touch if they pan the programming of music that attracts masses, while insisting that…anyway, I think it’s a very good thing Mr. Tommasini does NOT run an arts organization.

        • John says:

          Where is your research data that few people are interested in concerts? Or is this just an unsupported opinion you hold?

          • Ross says:

            It’s ok. I’ll explain it yet again.

            Multiple performances of opera or symphonic program. Perhaps 10,000 people will hear the program.
            NY Times criticises the program for being too conservative


            A single performance at the alternative venue.
            Perhaps attended by 100 people, maybe 200.
            In depth coverage and praise from the NY Times

            10,000 is a larger number than 200.

            The 10,000 are not allowed to chat, order drinks, and eat food off a table. The 200 are allowed to do these things and it begs the question whether they came to listen to this music or for a social outing.
            It’s unlikely the 10,000 consist of a few dozen group of friends with connections to the performers or composers. It’s quite likely the 200 consists of a few groups of friends of the performers and composers.

    • Dan P. says:

      To respond to Ross’ last comment – I understand where you’re coming from. There’s always the tension between the need to keep alive the traditional works we all love and the importance of bringing out new and lesser known works. But to put oneself in a critic’s shoes for a second, one would be hard pressed to find something new to write about, say, Tosca except to say if the performance/production was good or bad. And I say this as someone who could probably play (if not sing) the entire opera from memory. It’s not that these works are irrelevant. They are the heart of the repertoire and we love them. But we should also be talking about lots of other music and performers as well.

      Going back several decades this never was a problem because the Times covered everything of serious interest. Every new opera and ballet production got center stage, but every debut recital and new/early music group was covered as well and the review appeared following the performance. I agree with you – the many feature articles about music and famous musicians are long gone – and I miss them – but so are most of the other smaller concerts as well.

      If I can just add one more opinion. We all love our favorite classics – I certainly do – but unlike audiences for the visual arts and theater, our group is the most resistant to hear new work (even if it’s new-to-us OLD work). This isn’t healthy for our culture, and it doesn’t do much for us as an audience either. I’m not sure why we’re different than our peers in the other arts, but it seems like it’s been that way for a long time.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        There is also a difference between a critic who has seen an “old classic” countless times and is likely bored (especially if it is presented in a more traditional way), and someone who only goes to the occassional show and may well have not seen the piece before (or only once-or-twice if they have). I think this is a lot of the tension from reviewers and general audience.

        • Dan P. says:

          I don’t have any statistics on this (I’m sure there are) but from my experience at least, it seems that many people coming to hear repertoire items for the first time probably know the music to some degree from recordings and that’s the reason they want to see it live or someone has invited them to come with them. At least I know that from talking to random people during intermission, but, admittedly, that’s only anecdotal. I really don’t think many people read opera (or any) reviews anymore. If they did, newspapers would be anxious to publish them and they’re not. This is not to say that I don’t miss them. It’s hard to know what’s going on any more in music because of this.

          As for new opera goers – let’s face it, opera plots, except for those sprawling historical Baroque dramas, can be summarized in just a few sentences and are pretty conventional and uninteresting without the music. It’s not like one would say “Ooh, here’s an opera about a singer who’s lover is in jail and she hatches a plot to save him from a corrupt police official. When she can’t, she kills him and then jumps off a tower and kills herself. Let’s pay $150 a piece and go see that.” No. People go see Tosca for the reasons I stated above. At least I believe that’s why, but I may be wrong. In any case, it’s not like the need to explain Tosca is the same as the need to discuss a Eugene O’Neill or Arthur Miller play. As for the performance and the production newbies might be interested in reading about the former and old timers, the latter as well, but again, I’m not sure many people read reviews anymore.

  • Cyril Blair says:

    I flew to New York last month just to hear a debut recital at Carnegie Hall, and checked the NYT eagerly after for reviews: zip, zero.

    Yet in the books section, they often have two reviewers review a new book by a major or semi-major author.

    • Dan P. says:

      As I mentioned to Ross, above, the Times used to cover just about EVERY debut recital in town, but that stopped about 20-30 years ago. For the performer, this was priceless advertising. It put the performer’s name before the public and could often provide creditability that would help move their career’s forward a little. Time Out New York, who at least used to list all concerts submitted to them by performers no longer does that so now it’s impossible to even know what’s happening. As I keep saying, the musical culture that we all care about – at least in NYC – is quickly descending into irrelevance for much of the public and is only kept alive by celebrity performers.