Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Continuing Decline in Coverage

Looks like the financial situation is reaching epic depths at the local daily newspaper in Roanoke as circulation falls through the floor, people are sent packing and departments are flattened. The latest cutback, following on the heels of the ditching of the 22-year-old Blue Ridge Business Journal, is with reviews, which I don't expect to get much notice.

I'm told by a source inside that Jeff DeBell and Chris Gladden, both of whom have been tied to the daily for far more than 25 years, will no longer be freelance reviewers. The paper will apparently go with wire service reviews and take the local feel out of it, ala Clear Channel. Each was a long-time employee of the paper before leaving. Jeff was features editor and Chris was one of the best read feature writers ever.

Jeff and Chris were colleagues of mine when I was at the paper in the features department in the late 1970s and early '80s, the heyday of cultural coverage. The three of us reviewed just about anything that moved (and you can throw books into that mix, too). It was a lively section and the reviews led to interviews with some of the biggest acts and actors in America for the hometown newspaper. The arts felt relevant.

Now you simply cannot find a review of a play in town and there's not much else reviewed, save for an occasional opera or symphony performance. Books has gone from being important, to having two part-time editors, to one (one was fired) who has so much else to do that she can't possibly do a good job.

It looks like they're giving up, if they didn't give up two years ago when this snowballing seems to have started.

We can all grieve for what was, but I doubt we can get it back. Too bad.


  1. Ignoring the thriving arts culture in Roanoke will be a grave mistake, in my opinion. Sounds like this is a great opportunity for some entrepreneurs to take notice.

  2. Expectations are that the New River Current isn't going to be around much longer, either. It has been in a steady decline for some time, with more and more reader-supplied content taking the place of staff-written stories. Paid columnists first had their pay cut, then the number of columnists was cut, then all the columnists were given the heave ho. Probably most telling was Tuesday's edition, which was totally content free, save for the pictures sent in by readers. It is an odd way to run a bureau that has supplied quite a bit of front-page news to the main paper over the years.

  3. While I appreciate any and all concern about the NRV Current, it's not necessary.

    This week alone, thanks to outstanding reporting from Katelyn Polantz, Jeff Sturgeon, Tonia Moxley and others, the bureau is on pace to contribute nine (9) stories to A1.

    That's not too shabby for a small bureau that I'm working hard to manage half as well as my predecessors did.

    Chris Winston
    NRV Bureau Chief
    The Roanoke Times

  4. I question the lack of demand for Arts coverage or for events centered on local talent. It's hard when you can't get even the Taubman to continue what they started last year as an annual event (2009's 1st Annual Battle of the Bands). Also, lack of advert dollars from relevant local retailers cripple any periodical (print or online) and I don't foresee Carilion getting behind an Arts 'zine (unless the student body at the med school put one together, which is fine, I guess).
    I won't criticize Arts features writers (bloggers?) at RT, and I won't criticize CityMag's 'zine... they are what they are.
    But breaking on the scene is 16Blocks magazine out of Blacksburg, doing a heck of a job mixing up local Arts and political commentary. My bet is on them to be the regional voice for the Arts.

  5. Thanks for the comment Star City.

    I missed the "good ole days" of local journalism. I couldn't be more happy to say presently that we're growing in both content and advertising.

    Our current issue (#27) is themed "Momentum" for that reason.

    Hart Fowler
    Publisher And Editor in Chief

    I wanted to write something about how sentimentality is yawning and old-sounding, about the changing of the guard and all that, because I got my speakers turned way up pumping some Beck during lunch before catching the Smartway to Roanoke to check the show at the Sanctuary tonight but then I remembered that the Business Front gave us all A's for both our website and print when you all reviewed us when we first started.

    My how time flies!

  6. Hart Fowler
    Publisher and Editor in Chief
    16 Blocks Magazine

  7. There is also, an up and coming arts and alternative online publication. Too bad about RT, but these guys seemed poised to fill the gap too.