The News & Observer will cut back on its performing arts reviews beginning September 1, according to an email sent last week 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, says that's not entirely accurate, and 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 writes in an email.
In an email to the INDY, Dicks tries to reconcile the seemingly 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 writes. "So, if my statement of 'dropping performing arts reviews' is too finite, then it would have to be 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 recently published a column titled, "On the new N&O menu: Less spinach, more reader-focused coverage." In it, Drescher explained that the paper would rely on data and digital readership to guide decisions about which stories to cover.
In his email to the arts community, 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."