On Friday, all those who have taken The Dallas Morning News' buyout offer will be ushered out the door. I have no doubt it'll be the subject of much discussion here over the coming week. It's certainly being written about elsewhere--like, in The New York Times this morning, where former News managing editor Stu Wilk can be found offering his best-case scenario while sounding like a worst-case kind of guy:
"Best case, I think it will look like a paper with really strong local coverage and a lot of good wire stories," said Stuart Wilk, a former managing editor who retired from the paper in 2005. "The national and international coverage will be the same coverage that you see in the Sioux Falls paper and the Elkhart, Ind., paper and in the Fort Worth paper.
"And to those of us who see newspapers as something other than local, covering City Hall and covering the Rangers, that's really sad."
As we wrote two months ago many of those folks leaving the paper will come from the GuideLive section: film critic Philip Wuntch, a kind man in a cruel profession; music editor Anne Bothwell; book section editor Charles Ealy and book critic Jerome Weeks; architecture critic David Dillon; arts editor Rick Holter; and TV critics Manny Mendoza and Ed Bark. (Guess the music critics got a pass.) If you need proof that Belo's arts section buyouts reverberate further than the High Five, look only here: at the blog of Kansas City Star TV critic Aaron Barnhart, who yesterday wrote about the adiosing of revered Washington Post critic Tom Shales, who also recently took his paper's offer of a buyout, and the News' Ed Bark. Their losses will be incalculable, says Barnhart, and certainly not only because they're leaving just as the networks' fall seasons get underway. Writes Barnhart:
"The once-great A.H. Belo Corp. is about to unload Ed Bark, whom I consider the dean of American TV critics (along with Dusty Saunders of the Rocky Mountain News) and a founding force of the Television Critics Association, not to mention one of its most beloved members.
Belo, a company founded on great newspapers, now lets its TV-stations tail wag the print dawg. Bark hasn't been allowed to cover Dallas TV (hey, it's only the No. 6 market) because Belo owns WFAA-8, the formerly dominant ABC affil there.
The capper, which many of you read about, came when Belo management conducted self-fulfilling focus groups and decided--contrary to every trend in the newspaper industry--that local readers don't care for local arts and entertainment coverage. And so, practically the entire A&E staff at The Dallas Morning News took buyouts because the head of the paper told them they'd probably be canned if they didn't.
The irony of a company swimming in local TV revenues unloading both its TV critics (Manny Mendoza took a buyout, too) because it didn't think readers were interested in local writing about TV simply requires no comment."
Oh, but it does. And it will come in the next few days, not only from here but most likely from all the other local blogs who have rigorously covered the Belo bloodletting with all the indignation and vehemence this purge necessitates. But for a moment, consider what Barnhart says: "the once-great A.H. Belo Corp." This comes not from us or from any other local wag or nag, but from an outsider who even from a great distance watches with sadness what has taken place at The Dallas Morning News. —-Robert Wilonsky
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