Art surrenders to finances in A&E elimination

1n October 2000, The Minnesota Daily hired me to write a biweekly column, specifically, a satire and humor column. I would like to let all who read these words know that it is hard to be funny every other week on deadline, and so the challenge of producing humorous material is tough.

It wasn’t until last week, however, that I finally came across something really funny to write about: the elimination of the A&E section and staff by the Daily management. I describe that event as humorous because when I was informed of the management’s decision by Associate Entertainment — rather, I mean former Associate Entertainment Editor Andrew Knighton, that the weekly A&E section for the Daily had been axed, I thought he was joking. I really did.

I became informed of the A&E section’s demise while standing in the middle of the Purple Onion coffee shop in Dinkytown and went from laughter to shock. What in the world, I said aloud, would compel the management of the Daily to eradicate one of the most interesting (and informative) aspects of an award-winning college newspaper? An award-winning newspaper in the categories of arts and culture reporting, no less.

When the reality of the situation set in, I began writing a letter to the editor — forgetting momentarily about my own column — to describe the decision as “irrational” until after a moment of thought, I realized the contrary. The elimination of the Daily A&E section on Thursdays is a completely rational management decision, and that is the problem.

The decision to downsize, eradicate, smite and otherwise physically remove comprehensive writing about the arts and culture in the Daily is easy, given the lack of seemingly important consequences it entails. A modest proposal with guaranteed consequences for the Daily would be the elimination of the sports section. Perhaps an outright elimination of this section and its staff is too harsh; a shifting of sports coverage to one page per day might make the transition more acceptable.

I can only imagine the outcry if the sports section in the Daily were cut loose or downsized. Calls and letters from all kinds of people would come flying in, asking how on earth the Daily could eliminate reporting on such an integral part of University of Minnesota life.

The consequences then of eliminating the sports section, the reader might ask? The Minnesota Daily receives hundreds of angry letters from students, former Daily staff, University of Minnesota alumni and loses money. The notion of eliminating the sports section and staff, when examined by the Daily management, is therefore irrational.

The consequences then of eliminating the A&E section, the reader might ask? The Minnesota Daily receives hundreds of angry letters from students, former Daily staff, University of Minnesota alumni and saves money. The notion of eliminating and downsizing the Arts and Entertainment section, when examined by the Daily Management, is therefore rational.

I’m not suggesting in any way that the sports section or any other part of the Daily be eliminated, with perhaps the exception of the biweekly columnists. Newspaper columnists can be a real pain for management. In fact, the elimination of any aspect of comprehensive news coverage for the Daily is a bad idea.

The value of arts and culture reporting rests not in the rational value it brings to media organizations but the articulation of events in society that would otherwise go undocumented by “news of the day” journalism. Reporting on arts and culture becomes, via my suggestion, a process of writing to make visible in text the otherwise invisible reality of these foundations in society. Let me assure any reader who doubts my thinking — it is a highly irrational undertaking.

While I understand the need to maintain a financially solvent organization, the Daily management has made a poor decision that is most certainly rational, and to make a point not often heard, wrong.

One of three reasons submitted by the Daily management for the removal of the A&E section in its weekly Thursday format and subsequent reincarnation as a downsized one-page-a-day presentation was “financial debt.” Here begins the submission of so many management groups to the supremacy of the number.

I’m not suggesting that financial stability should be thrown to the wind in the process of running the Daily. In fact, I’m sure plenty of revenue charts show just how profitable the sports section is, for example, in advertising sales when compared to the arts and culture section.

Within the framework of its organization, The Minnesota Daily mission statement stipulates that (the Daily) “… operate a fiscally responsible organization that assures its ability to serve the University in the future.” Beyond fiscal responsibility, the same mission statement also mandates, “The Daily’s goal is to be the foremost training newspaper in the nation in all areas of newspaper operation,” and The Minnesota Daily is “to provide educational training and experience to University students in all areas of newspaper operations.”

Even within the first line of the mission statement, a contradiction can be drawn between these previously stated goals of the newspaper and the elimination of comprehensive arts and culture reporting: (The Minnesota Daily is) “to provide a forum for the communication and exchange of ideas for the University community and to provide coverage of news and events affecting the University community.”

I submit these mission statement points to the reader as a way of suggesting that the Daily needs to pursue different tactics in maintaining financial stability. The pursuance must include business practices other than eliminating or downsizing sections of the newspaper in the name of financial solvency.

The production of arts journalism as commerce does not necessitate liquidations of entire journalistic staffs and their weekly contribution to University of Minnesota life. The now defunct A&E section has been sacrificed to rational management. The absent A&E, however, is more than a loss — it’s the creation of a void produced by the Daily management affecting the entirety of the University of Minnesota and most importantly, The Minnesota Daily.

I think it’s safe to say that someday down the road, a new regime of Daily management decision makers will revitalize the full A&E section, questioning the initial elimination in the first place. The opportunity still exists for the current management body to admit an error, or lapse in judgment — whatever makes saying “wrong” easier — to bring back the full A&E section.

The return of the full, unabridged A&E section to The Minnesota Daily will keep the cultural, human and intellectual capital of the newspaper from devolving into a period of Daily history that risks classification as the “Big Mistake” for future managers to navigate.

If the reader is wondering, I’m still laughing about the elimination of the A&E section because the whole situation seems so rationally absurd.

John Troyer’s column appears alternate Fridays. He welcomes comments at Send letters to the editor to [email protected]