A little drama has been unfolding in Cleveland. To make a long story very short, Donald Rosenberg, a music critic for the Cleveland Plain Dealer (the city's only daily newspaper) was "reassigned" from his beat for writing too many unfavourable reviews of the Cleveland Orchestra and its conductor, Franz Welser-Möst. Rosenberg sued both his newspaper and the orchestra, alleging that they conspired to remove him from his position.

Rosenberg lost his case. You can read about it here:

I know Rosenberg: he’s a scholar and a gentleman, with oodles of integrity. I’m sorry that he lost – although I can’t say I’m especially surprised, given the forces he was up against.

But there’s one problem at the root of this issue that I haven’t seen articulated: it’s a structural problem throughout the newspaper industry that has a direct bearing on the situation in Cleveland. However, it's a problem that we in Toronto don't have – so as a Toronto-based writer, I'm well placed to point out the error of everyone else's ways.

Now that so many North American cities have become one-paper towns, often with only one classical-music critic, de-facto monopolies of opinion have arisen. This is bad for critics, bad for newspapers and bad for music.

In my view, a healthy criticism thrives on diversity of opinion. Such diversity underscores the subjective nature of criticism: in an environment where there are many critical voices, it’s obvious to all that a review is simply one individual’s subjective position. In an environment where there is only one person writing about classical music, that one person becomes "The Critic," and may be implicitly saddled with expectations of balance, objectivity, and other bogus responsibilities.

One of the complaints expressed by an editor at the Plain Dealer about Rosenberg’s reviews of the Cleveland Orchestra was that his opinions were "predictable." Rosenberg didn’t think much of Welser-Möst’s conducting, and he said so consistently.

I can also see how a newspaper editor would find predictable coverage problematic. Why would anyone bother continuing to read reviews in The (only) Newspaper if The (only) Critic consistently doesn’t like The (only) Conductor? It's the editor's job to keep the "Lively Arts" section lively.

But expecting Rosenberg to moderate (i.e. falsify) his opinions is just plain wrong: it’s his job to be honest. And simply "re-assigning" Rosenberg was a very crude solution. How’s about bringing in a second critic, with different views, to alternate with Rosenberg, or to appear in print alongside his columns?

Toronto, as I noted above, is a happy exception to this problem. I can't think of another North American city with four daily newspapers, three of which cover classical music to some extent. When three differing reviews of a concert appear in print, it makes for interesting reading. And when three reviews appear that all offer the same verdict on a concert, that’s interesting, too.

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