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August 6, 2010

Music critic loses case against Cleveland Plain Dealer, Cleveland Orchestra

Don Rosenberg lost his legal battle against his employer, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and the management of the Cleveland Orchestra. The jury rendered its verdict this morning.

As you will recall, Rosenberg was reassigned by the paper, taken off the beat of covering the orchestra, accused of being too negative on its music director, Franz Welser-Most.

I can't say I'm surprised, but I still say it was a brave and worthy battle to fight on behalf of those who were hired to offer our opinions about artistic quality.

Posted by Tim Smith at 11:41 AM | | Comments (9)


You serve at the pleasure of your employer. Get over it.

Don't we just LOVE supposedly-withering 2-sentence "bon mots?"

No. Get over it, Chris.

Clearly, you haven't been in a similar situation, or you wouldn't be so quick to slam the door (or cease your stunning repartee).

I'm certainly not surprised, because the Plain Dealer brass can base their decision in as much BS as they like - without revealing the _true_ motivation! Shovel crap around, and all you get is more crap. I'm just sorry that Rosenberg's legal help wasn't more creative - but what can one do? (And, surely, the newspaper's own legal eagles would have spun any contested subject toward their client's favour. Obfuscate, obfuscate, obfuscate - and if that doesn't work, make crap up!)

I applaud Don for making the effort, regardless.

Shame. Don's a good writer and dead on in his criticism of Welser-Most. Similiar situation ended the career of Joe McClellan at the times, although I felt he was past his best times.

Chris is right. At the end of the day if you don't like working for other people then grow a pair and start up your own endeavour.

Gee, I never realized before that employers are always, always right, and it's never, ever worth questioning them. Thanks, guys, for clarifying that. TS

Two days late (and I guess two dollars short), but I'm sorry to read this, and I hope that Don is able to continue to write brilliantly in the future. I think the verdict and the Plain Dealer's behavior set a bad precedent for handling this sort of dispute between critic and arts organization. Any news on Don's plans?

I worked as a television journalist for 12 years. I never would have considered suing my employer in court to challenge a beat assignment. As an employee, you don't get to choose your beat. The boss does. He or she may have all kinds of motivations for making a change, but that really doesn't matter much. If you don't like it, you can always leave. Of course, you can always take the boss to court. But (as we have just seen) it's not very likely that you will win.
so, contrary to what everyone is writing, Chris is correct: You serve at the pleasure of your employer. Get over it.
Don can quit the Plain Dealer and blog to his heart's content. He isn't entitled to his perch at the Dealer and there are LOTS of unemployed journalists eager to work there.

I understand what you're saying, jon, but writing critical reviews is different from covering a beat. Classical music critics are actually selected on their own background and knowledge of genres within the classical category. It's fundamentally different than being hired to cover crime, or typical beat/news stories. Covering music, one is hired based on a unique combination of actual analytical skills, linguistic capability, and a dash of personal preference.

It's not a given that any arts organization being reviewed by a critic are inherently worthy of good reviews, nor is it a reviewer's responsibility to tart up his/her critiques to make reviews more pleasing to an arts institution. I can understand how frustrating it would be to an arts institution or publication to have constantly negative reviews of performances, but a string of negative reviews does fit within the realistic norm of reactions to a series of performances.

Some well-known music critics are known for giving critique-free essays passing as reviews, while others have the reputation of being sourpusses--acting as if they hate the art form they're charged with reviewing. I don't think that Don falls into either category, but the Plain Dealer seemed to err in treating him as if he were in the latter category. After finally doing a bit of internet research on other reviews of the Cleveland Orchestra, Don was not alone in writing his negative reviews. I think there may be an artistic quality issue on the orchestra's hands, and the newspaper wasn't comfortable with the hometown reviewer being the most consistent, negative voice--no matter how warranted his critiques were.

I think Laura is correct in her assessment of the situation. Don is the person who literally "wrote the book" on the orchestra, and his reviews were often right on the money. It is a question of a large institution trying to squelch opposition to a conductor who is not world class.

Plain Dealer = bad scene

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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