A&E staff members respond to controversy

Someone’s insulting you. That someone thinks you don’t have the intelligence to string ideas together. Two weeks ago, the Daily’s editor in chief called a special meeting in which the A&E section was dissolved. The Office of the Publisher liquidated a community of writers, artists and readers, and with the same action, claimed to speak in the interest of that community.
In A&E’s place, the Office of the Publisher plans an isolated page in the daily newspaper for arts and entertainment coverage. It is the opinion of this staff that this page will offer no substitute for the A&E section’s quality, depth and breadth of coverage. A&E supported a conversation among the arts rather than atomizing them. Without a doubt, a forum for political and cultural dissent has been lost. In the culture-as-commodity format of the proposed arts page, it won’t be restored. Marketing and the arts are about to have another lovechild. Let’s hope it’s at least as good as Entertainment Tonight.
Culture for Sale
Culture has traditionally had a critical value, often for those who have no access to other avenues to express ideas that run against the grain. The restructuring of A&E completely undermines that function, effectively eliminating this campus’ conversation on the arts. At A&E, we have tried over the years to help questioning thrive. We tried not only to inform you about prevailing trends but also cultural expression on the margins that doesn’t receive coverage elsewhere, and University events that other publications don’t notice. A&E was never content to sit back and ask how much “fun” a movie was. While appreciating pop culture on its own terms, we also believed that you wanted something more than mere escapism.
In contrast, the proposed arts page will read like an inventory of cultural products offered up for consumption. Quantitatively, content will be reduced by at least two-thirds. No more in-depth cover stories, interviews or book reviews: The new arts coverage will be primarily concerned with what products you should buy, like the BMG music club catalog, but shorter.
The decision to cut A&E was made by three students in the Office of the Publisher. The biggest factor in their decision was the fiscal insolvency of A&E, which they say indicated that the paper was “in poor health.” Reject this metaphor. It is meaningless. None of the information which led to their clinical diagnosis has been made available for review. And even if we do acknowledge the vague diagnosis of “poor health,” the solution is seldom to kill the patient.
Regulated Expression
Neither the staff so suddenly dismissed nor the students and faculty who read A&E should romanticize its end as part of a repressive conspiracy, yet the effect is the same. The destruction of A&E was a consequence of the market, a system that requires no conspiracy to silence dissent. It doesn’t even need to recognize difference in order to silence it, elevating homogenized perspectives. The only requirements: willing executioners who perform their jobs without empathy.
Witness the bulletin boards on campus: Once the domain of student groups, they were deregulated in the late 90s. The anonymous agents of Kaplan Testing Services and MTV who now paper the boards with their shiny posters don’t discriminate between the Xeroxed flyers they obscure. It doesn’t matter if they cover an announcement about a protest of the School of the Americas or a flyer for Ayn Rand’s bake sale. All are covered. Could student political apathy be related to this invasion of the campus public sphere by commercial interests?
Similarly, the business machine that views all printed space as potential commercial space doesn’t discriminate between A&E and the sports section, except to notice that the sports section sells more advertising. The three members of the Office of the Publisher who cut A&E were not responding to our content, yet the effect is the same. We are silenced, as are the artistic communities we sought to engage.
Profits Before Students?
When a newspaper is a profit-oriented enterprise, it is relieved of the burdens of its convictions. Hence, the myth of the unbiased press is born, but business imperatives always operate behind the scenes. In cutting A&E, the Office of the Publisher has proven itself more concerned with accounts than with accountability, more wedded to the bank statement than the mission statement. Their decisions cast considerable doubt upon their commitment to the Daily’s stated goals — for which it receives student services fees and tax exemption — to provide a “forum for the communication and exchange of ideas,” but also “educational training and experience.”
As a training paper, the Daily should provide a forum for students who wish to learn about arts journalism and cultural criticism. No doubt, the downsizing of the A&E staff from 12 to four people will have an impact on the journalism program (which only has one arts writing course) and the preparation it can offer future journalists. Alumni from the A&E section write for papers and magazines across the globe, as well as contributing to and staffing local arts papers, alternative and otherwise. Some of the Twin Cities’ best professors and artists got their start at the Daily and A&E, including Garrison Keillor (host of A Prairie Home Companion), Patricia Hampl (Dept .of English/author), Jay Waljasper (Utne Reader), Jim Walsh (Pioneer Press) and many others at the Star Tribune, Pulse and City Pages.
In its actions, the Office of the Publisher acts not only to represent the A&E and editorial staff, but you as readers. Judging from the hudreds of angry letters that have poured in, they’re not doing a very good job of it. T. Trent Gegax, an A&E alumnus and correspondent for Newsweek put it like this: “Killing the Daily’s A&E section is a sure path to killing the campus’ fragile arts scene, and blood will likely splatter on clubs, coffeehouses and poetry slams around the Twin Cities.”
Given the financial reasons for this closure, it appears that what the Daily wishes to train are not writers and critics, but bureaucrats and managers. It has created an environment in which the cynical pursuit of profit is valued over thought, reflection and expression. When leaders, who should be the stewards of an organization, prove to be impersonal and calculating manipulators of it, they fail us as a staff, and in doing so have scandalously failed the readers of this paper and the arts community at large. The new arts page treats you, the reader, with the utmost condescension. Its creators expect you to be unable to appreciate the difference.
The A&E Staff — Laura Czarnecki, Kristin Powell, Andrew Knighton, Chuck Terhark, Collier White, Rob O’Brien, Eric Block, Abbie Jarman, David Gustafson and Hannah Kuhlmann