The N&O’s Performing Arts Correspondent Says the Paper Is Cutting Back on Performing Arts Reviews | News
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Monday, August 21, 2017

The N&O’s Performing Arts Correspondent Says the Paper Is Cutting Back on Performing Arts Reviews

Posted by on Mon, Aug 21, 2017 at 5:02 PM

The News & Observer will significantly cut back on its performing arts reviews beginning September 1, according to an email sent to people in the Triangle performing arts community from the paper's performing arts correspondent, Roy C. Dicks.

According to Dicks's email, the paper's performing arts reviews have low online readership and "therefore are being dropped."

However, the N&O’s culture editor, Jessica Banov, told the INDY there "isn't a plan to get rid of reviews outright."

"We know how important the performing arts scene is to the Triangle and we will continue to write stories about local theater and the arts," Banov wrote in an email.

In an email to the INDY, Dicks explained the contradictory messages: "I can understand that the [N&O] doesn’t want to say it's absolutely stopping all reviews but, for the purposes of what the theaters and the public have come to expect, reviews will be going from 70 or so in a year down to one or two," he wrote. "So, if my statement of ‘dropping performing arts reviews’ is too finite, then it would have to stated as ‘no longer doing regular performing arts reviews,’ although that doesn’t really indicate the real drop in numbers."

The decision to cut down on the reviews comes in the wake of recent news that the paper is making a series of changes to adopt a "digital-first" editorial strategy. Executive editor John Drescher published a column last week titled, “On the new N&O menu: Less spinach, more reader-focused coverage.” In it, Drescher explained that the paper was making changes to accommodate its readers, using data and digital readership as a guide for decisions about which stories to cover.

In his email, Dicks said the decision to cut back on reviews is consistent with the newspaper's new direction.

"It’s certainly disappointing to find out that performing arts reviews have low readership, but if that’s the basis for ‘stay or go,’ then advocating the need for reviews won't have any real impact," Dicks wrote. "Unfortunately, this is a trend in papers all over the country. Most have dropped staff writers in the arts, relying exclusively on correspondents, and a number have dropped reviews altogether. So the N&O and [its parent company] McClatchy are doing nothing new.”

Here is the original email from Dicks:
Hello. Please forgive this group email to my contacts among Triangle performing arts presenters and participants.

Some of you may already be aware of changes taking place at the Raleigh News & Observer. A recently published overview from executive editor John Drescher outlined the main changes.

The McClatchy company has been reinventing its newspapers this year, designating them as digital-first organizations and using online technology to assess the number of views or clicks each article receives. As Drescher mentioned, this has led to the N&O dropping a number of long-time features, including Barry Saunders’ column and the Past Times column. Editors have been tasked to focus on topics that get large numbers of clicks and not on those with low hit rates. It’s an economic issue that involves putting available resources to the best use for the widest readership.

It turns out that performing arts reviews have low readership in the N&O and, therefore, are being dropped as of September 1, 2017.

I will still be writing for the N&O because the focus now will be on preview stories about performing arts productions, trends and people (these get more clicks than reviews). You can send me pitches for preview stories but you should also send them (along with all press releases) to my new editor:

Jessica Banov
Culture Editor, The News & Observer
Dining, Food, Entertainment, Faith and Home & Garden

I will miss writing reviews but this is a business decision for the paper. I look forward to continue writing preview stories about performing arts productions and events in the Triangle (remember that preview pitches need to be sent out at least a month before performances begin because of writing deadlines).

Roy C. Dicks
Performing arts correspondent for the Raleigh News & Observer

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