How High? Very High.

There is a very good explanation as to why so many arts critics are leaving The Dallas Morning News--or, at the very least, accepting the paper's buyout offer, which they have till 5:30 p.m. Wednesday to withdraw. They were told to go by editor Bob Mong and vice president-managing editor George Rodrigue during a recent meeting, at which the bosses told them the paper's so-called "core readers" don't care about critics. To prove the point, Mong and Rodrigue showed the arts staff a chart on which they had illustrated their research. There was also a second visual aid--a ranking of departments and positions that would be "impacted" by the paper's estimable cutbacks. Next to "critics," we hear, they had written in red letters, "Very High," as opposed to news reporters, who were listed as being at "Moderate" risk of being eliminated. (Word is every department at the paper was given a similar presentation.)

This, so we have been told, is why so many GuideLive staffers have accepted the buyout--though we've also been told film critic Chris Vognar, mentioned elsewhere last week as someone who took the deal, has withdrawn his offer and decided to stay. (That comes as little surprise and welcome news: Not only is he a friend, but in the wake of Philip Wuntch's announced departure, the paper will still need to have a local film voice, lest it turn Friday's GuideLive into an all-wire-service section and be rendered wholly irrelevant.) By my count, the paper could lose as many as 10 of its higher-profile critics and arts editors, whose names we'll leave to others till the writers and editors decide whether to withdraw their acceptances, as Vognar has. And when you add in those arts writers the paper let go in 2004--among them Olin Chism, Jane Sumner, Teresa Gubbins, Gary Dowell and Deborah Voorhees--well, that's a "Very High" number indeed. --Robert Wilonsky

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky

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