Yet another music critic has been laid off, and his absence will have a direct effect on quality arts reporting in Southern California. Unfortunately, the Orange County Register informed resident critic Timothy Mangan of the decision on Friday, just as he was headed to LA Opera to cover La Bohéme with Gustavo Dudamel at the helm. According to his independent blog, Classical Life (well worth following), Mangan has understandably decided not to cover the event after all, and this is the first of many events for which we will not have the advantage of his well-written and knowledgable insights.
Mangan has worked at the Register for the better part of two decades, and has become a major influence in local artistic circles. Companies, performers and audiences alike care what he has to say, and his following has spread nationwide and beyond US borders. That influence is rooted in his verbal skill and a solid background in the music he clearly loves, but also in his willingness to be frank, without malice, when necessary. This balance is exemplified in his May 24 coverage of the current revival of Herbert Ross’ La Bohéme at LA Opera, the very production he was to review again on Friday. In the current climate fraught with rehashed productions, a fixation on the same handful of composers and the ongoing dumbing-down of masterpieces by presenters at every level, Tim is one of the critics we can trust to see a show clearly, to fill us in on background, politics and other factors affecting presentation, to offer his thoughts, and still leave us cheering for the events worth attending. His true passion for good music, uplift and enlightenment shines through, and raises him from critic to champion.
The newspaper’s decision, of course, is part of a much larger trend in arts journalism, or rather the trend toward killing it off. Newspapers and magazines around the world have been eliminating full-time, part-time and even freelance opportunities for years, mostly with the excuse that social media is taking its place. But the real truth is that online commentary has arisen and gained ground as a direct reaction to the systematic undoing of traditional watchdogs — a cause-and-effect situation aptly referenced in the All is Yar post linked above.
SoCal is one of the last metropolitan areas in the US to boast multiple active critics with large newspapers, and with the trials and tribulations that have rocked the Register, it is sadly not surprising to see them “restructuring” yet again. This devaluing of arts reporting is deeply sad, short-sighted, and devastating to the creative landscape. Tim has chronicled his situation over the last few days with a series of posts on Classical Life, and the outcry from bloggers and fellow literati is rising quickly, including an excellent piece by All is Yar‘s CK Dexter Haven, whose site saw its fifth anniversary this week. CKDH pretty much says it all, but his frustrated voice is joined by the comments, tweets and frustrated posts from devoted readers, active audience members, performers, a former LA Times editor, and The New Yorker‘s Alex Ross, who doesn’t mince words in this tweet:
Having worked at the @OCRegister for nearly eighteen years, Tim Mangan was given two weeks’ severance. That strikes me as vicious.
— Alex Ross (@alexrossmusic) June 12, 2016
There is no doubt of the value of this man’s work. We hope that Tim will continue to write, one way or another. Whatever happens, we at the List and in the blogosphere are cheering him on. This is a voice that deserves a home, for its own worth and for its impact on the arts community at large.
Hang in there, Tim.