WBUR slashes arts coverage

Longtime editor and critic Bill Marx forced out
By NINA MACLAUGHLIN  |  July 19, 2006

WBUR, the Boston-based, Boston University–owned NPR radio affiliate, will no longer carry arts reviews, the station’s long-time critic and editor Bill Marx said last Thursday in a story first published on thePhoenix.com. In an emotional e-mail sent last week to ’BUR arts freelancers, Marx, who has been writing about the arts in Boston for 20 years, and has been at WBUR since 1980, also announced that he will leave the station on August 31.

“I was told [last Tuesday] that ’BUR is no longer interested in reviews, online or on broadcast,” Marx said in a phone interview Thursday from his home. “Which means no more theater reviews and no more arts magazine.” The station’s award-winning online arts magazine, WBUR Online Arts, which was launched in 2000, included reviews, an arts calendar, multi-media features, an arts blog, and podcasts. “We had a strong readership,” Marx said. “We had cutting-edge arts coverage online. To my knowledge all of it is going [away]. No arts blog. No arts calendar.”

Sam Fleming, managing director of news and programs, said that the station does not want to de-emphasize arts. “We recognize the arts are really important,” he said over the phone. “We’ll have some criticism and a lot of stuff as related to arts in the news.” The station has hired Andrea Shea, a former producer for Here and Now and a freelance journalist covering arts for NPR, as a full-time arts reporter.

Marx suggested that the new cuts aren’t due to budgetary concerns, but instead follow a national trend in the shrinking of arts criticism. “In today’s journalistic world, reviews are being squeezed out by puffery and by arts news,” he said. “It’s no longer of interest having a perspective on arts that involves people thinking deeply. Not just for ’BUR, but for publications across the country, there’s less and less space for critics to have their say. It’s hard to make a sensible argument if you don’t have the column inches.”

Fleming says the shift is a result of wanting “to do more journalism about the arts. We wanted to have something that reflected what we are as a broadcast organization.”

Marx’s departure is merely the latest change at an embattled station that has seen significant turnover in the past several years. After the scandalous departure of general manager Jane Christo — who resigned in 2004 amid allegations including suspect hiring practices, mismanagement of federal grant money, and misuse of station-owned vehicles — ’BUR hired local TV exec Paul LaCam era  to helm the station.

Marx will write his final column for the station’s online newsletter this week.

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