Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0
Alexandra

NY Magazine - firing Tobi Tobias

64 posts in this topic

Here's the item from the LA Times. It's short enough to reprint in its entirety.

New York Magazine Drops Dance Column

Tobi Tobias, dance writer at New York magazine for the past 22 years, got a call from editor in chief Caroline Miller Tuesday night advising her that her column was being phased out.

It's not that she's being replaced by "someone cuter," the columnist said Thursday. She's just the latest victim of economics, in which the arts--and dance, in particular--are increasingly seen as expendable.

"New York City is a mecca for dance--and there are so few slots where dance is being covered in a steady and serious way," Tobias said. "Companies and artists--not just the people who report on them--are trying to find and retain an audience. Dance is seen as the 'orphan' art since its appeal is narrower than the others. Still, it needs to have its place."

Tobias has received a couple of dozen phone calls and nearly 100 e-mails since word got out. But the decision, it seems, is final.

"While we value Tobi's contribution, I decided not to renew her contract," Miller said. "But we're not abandoning dance. At least for the time being, we'll cover it through listings, features and reviews written by other staff people. In these difficult times, every publication in America has to make painful decisions about how to use limited resources in a way that best serves the readers. And it's no surprise to anyone that the audience for dance has diminished."

Share this post


Link to post

That last sentence is a little startling.

I thought dance audiences were actually growing. With companies adding longer seasons and more and more festivals popping up.

Share this post


Link to post

Thanks very much for posting this, Ari.

What's exciting about this is that I think the dance community -- the presenters, the dancers, the company managers -- who have been gritting their teeth for the past 20 years about the dearth of coverage of dance, saying, "Of course, we understand. Times are tough." (During the '90s bubble????) "But could you please possibly cover the world premiere of our new work? Oh, thank you so much. Of course, we understand you couldn't begin to consider a preview," etc etc. They can't complain about little coverage because of fear of even less coverage as a "punishment" for daring to question the judgment of the accountants -- I'm sorry. I mean editors. BUT they can scream about no coverage. And they are screaming.

What I hope is that this will carry over to other publications. It's time that dance stood up and was counted. There is no basis for the assumption by many newspapers and magazines that there's no interest in dance. Dance USa has lots of statistics on this -- audience demographics, real numbers. Their favorite is that more people attend ballet performances than NFL games. The problem is that dance is not part of the world of most, if not all, editors and publishers.

Share this post


Link to post

The Dance Insider piece is instructive. I note that the Ben-Itzak reminds dance people that "P.S: It's no secret that Tobi Tobias's dance criticism, which can be acid when she sees something she doesn't like, has rankled some dance artists. Please -- PLEASE -- don't let this deter you from supporting her and fighting to help her regain her podium." It's too bad that he felt impelled to do that -- that there are actually people out there who might say, "She slammed me, so good riddance," and not look at the larger issues.

Share this post


Link to post

Time Out is covering this issue by running an interview with Tobias by Gia Kourlas; it will be on newstands next Wednesday. This is not on line, and I can't get this magazine down here, so I'm counting on New Yorkers to fill us in!

One error in the LATimes article -- the word "reviews" appears; it should be "previews."

And the last sentence in the Miller quote in the LATimes is an addition; it's not in the reply the magazine is using to respond to emailers.

Calliope, I haven't had time to run down the latest figures today; the people I need to talk to are out of town. I'll try Monday. The last survey I remember reading was that dance attendance was up, but that was several years ago and things can change very quickly.

dirac, none of the people I've talked to or gotten messages from have mentioned personal opinions about Tobias or her writing -- to everyone's surprise, I think. Perhaps Dance Insider is antcipating, as many did, that there would be some who'd say "she slammed me, good riddance," but people seem to be looking at the larger issue.

I've also found over the years that Tobias is one of those critics -- Croce was another -- that artists loved to mutter about, until she gave them a good review. THEN the opinion changed (which is perfectlly natural) and this is another way of saying that Tobias is respected.

Share this post


Link to post

I frankly didn't expect this to be a continuing news story, but it's turning out that way. I've learned that there's one dance organization with a 1400 member name mailing list that has requested its members to email their views on this matter.

I'm going to move this over to the Books, Magazines and Critics thread. I'm also going to split off the letters that people have posted. Several people who aren't members here, and who, I think, are not accustomed to internet message boards, have sent me emails with copies of their letters to post, so I'll be doing that. People are checking the coverage here for updates.

I'd also like to emphasize that, although it's pretty obvious where I, and many others, stand on this issue, this, like any other topic, is open to discussion. If you think NYMagazine did the right thing -- please feel free to say so. And if you wish they'd reconsider and restore dance reviews to NYMagazine but think that your voice doesn't matter, it does. They're counting. 50 emails may not matter. 1,000 may well matter. So please write, if you haven't done so, or reply to Ms. Miller's letter, if you'd like to counter her points.

caroline_miller@newyorkmag.com

Share this post


Link to post

The New York magazine response has changed slightly (this is what those who email NYMag are now getting as a response)

Thanks for your letter. It's true that we're not going to continue running Tobi's reviews, but, believe me, we are not abandoning dance coverage. We'll continue to run previews, listings and features, and are committed to making sure dance gets the attention it deserves, in every way we can. I know you're aware that every publication in America, like all arts organizations, has had to make painful descisions on how to deploy limited resources to give readers what they value most. This is something we feel we have to do at this point; nonetheless, as we go forward we'll continue to look for ways to support the dance community in the city.

Share this post


Link to post

In the LATimes article of August 2, Ms. Miller (editor of NY Magazine) was quoted as saying "And it's no surprise to anyone that the audience for dance has diminished."

I haven't been able to find anything to support this. DanceUSA, which keeps the numbers on dance in this country, has the following information on its website in the "Snap Facts" section (www.danceusa.org)

This is a quote from the web site:

Dance in America: Snapfacts 2000

Professional dance companies in America have a direct economic impact of over $350 million.

A study by the NEA in 1997 estimated that 35.6 million people attend dance performances.*

* This figure may include pre-professional performances and recitals.

There are about 675 professional dance companies in the USA.

Of these, 15 have budgets in excess of $5 million.

An estimated 55 to 65 have budgets between $1 million and $5 million.

About 12 to 14 of these are modern companies; the rest are ballet.

New York City has more dance companies -- slightly over 200 -- than any other metropolis.

But this number includes only 13 of the 70 - 80 companies with budgets over $1 million.

Dance is a relatively young "industry" in America.

In 1965, the NEA identified 37 professional dance companies in America.

Only 72 companies claim founding dates earlier than 1970.

The oldest companies are the Metropolitan Opera Ballet (1895),

the Martha Graham Company (1926), the Atlanta Ballet (1929),

and the San Francisco Ballet (1933).

[emphasis added by A.T.; though these figures are from September 2000, and the NEA survey was from 1997, there has not been a major survey since that date, as far as I know. - A.T.]

Share this post


Link to post

recitals and pre-professional.

does that count your 4 year olds "recital"?

I wonder what Ms. Miller's context of the audience diminishing is?

Just today Broadway announced the potential closing of 4 new shows, b/c of post-Sept 11th audiences looking for bargains and a decline of advance sales.

Somehow I doubt they'll cancel the theater column.

I don't think she gets the difference between press and a review.

Share this post


Link to post

I agree with your last statement, Calliope (about not getting the difference between press and review). But I think Miller's latest response shows where the thinking comes from -- it has nothing to do with economic difficulties and everything to do with the perception that dance doesn't matter and there aren't enough readers who care about dance.

On your question about recitals, apparently it is extremely difficult to determine statistically what's professional and what is not in the dance field: there's no agreed upon definition. There are a lot of professionals who work for little or no money -- in peforming, this is especially true, of course, in modern dance. Choreogrpahes may not receive fees for their work, etc. etc. etc.

But from an editor's point of view, I'd be just as happy to have as a reader the parents of a four-year-old whose school has a dance recital as I would someone who only attends performances by the major companies, or the minor ones -- or never goes at all, but just dances. Who cares? As long as they're interested in dance.

Share this post


Link to post

It doesn't look from the revised message that Miller is backing down in any crucial respect. Interesting that her observation to the effect that no one's that interested in dance any more is not reiterated in the e-mail.

I don't think it's necessarily wrong for her to say that, as long as she has evidence to back it up. If there is such evidence, I wish she'd produce it.

However, even if it's true that interest in dance is diminishing, it seems to me that fact in itself would not warrant elimination of dance reviews. There are things that reputable papers and magazines believe they have to cover, even if they're not the items that draw the most eyeballs.

Share this post


Link to post

Flash! Another new form response from Caroline Miller at New York Magazine:

It's true that we're not going to continue running Tobi's reviews,

but, believe me, we are not abandoning dance coverage. We'll continue to run previews, listings and features, and are committed to making sure dance gets the attention it deserves, in every way we can. As you have observed, every publication in America, like every arts organization, has had to make painful decisions on how to deploy limited resources to give readers what they value most. This is something we feel we have to do at this point; it doesn't mean that we're not serious about dance and other arts in the city. Like all organisms, magazines need to keep evolving, developing new voices and new approaches.

--------------------------------------

comment by A.T.:

So cutting reviews is a "new approach?" Surely that's been tried :) And if the links and previews are being written by writers already on staff -- and already doing the links and previews -- then how is that "developing new voices"? I can't resist this dig, that Tobias's voice was already quite developed when she went to NYMag, and there has been no indication that this move was to replace her -- quite the opposite. Eliminating Tobias was because they were eliminating dance reviews.

Share this post


Link to post

I don't have any proof of this, but I can venture to guess that New York Magazine is feeling the heat from Time Out New York, which does listings much better than New York Mag and has pretty much taken over for Cue (the listing section of NYM). TONY does reviews of films, theater, and art, but not dance. It is possible that the people at NYM are thinking, well it works for TONY and that's how we'll snag their readers. In addition, I've seen more theme issues of NYM, like TONY. Well, I think that's way off. As I told them in a letter, New York magazine should value and further develop what makes them unique to readers -- their features on the city, columns and critics.

Share this post


Link to post

Time Out New York does fairly frequent features about ballet and dance. I recollect a recent interview with Helene Alexopoulos on her retirement, some backstage gossip about what it is like to dance in NYCB's Nutcracker, and other things like that. I don't subscribe, so I can't check, but I think it also gets some small amount of advertising from NYCB and possibly ABT.

And I think that's the point. I don't think there is any reason to doubt that the decision was made based on economics. This week's issue was very sparse in terms of ads -- a handful of display ads, an education advertorial supplement, and the classifieds and personals in the back.

Dance companies -- even ABT and NYCB -- don't do much advertising. When times are tough, the reality is that a magazine editor must make cuts in content areas that won't hurt readership OR the bottom line. In my letter, I noted that the world wouldn't miss New York magazine's film criticism -- there are plenty of outlets for movie reviews. But cutting back on film coverage could adversely impact advertising revenue. Among the meager advertising in this week's issue was an for the new Clint Eastwood movie.

Even though advertising is a reality, it is still sad that they cut the column. Although I have no idea of the costs involved, New York certainly wasn't running the column very often.

Share this post


Link to post

Alexandra, FWIW, my favorite magazine and newspaper shop in D.C., One Stop, 2000 Pennsylvania Avenue, (202) 872-1577, says they carry Time Out New York and currrently have the lst-8th August issue. They're open until 9 tonight, if you're in a hurry. (I thought I'd seen it there; leave it to the tourists to tell the locals where things are, eh? Just kidding, of course.)

Share this post


Link to post

Time Out New York came out today.

An interview with Tobi Tobias.

Briefly;

she talked about she got into writing about dance. She met someone at a New Year's party who was an alumni of her school and asked her to write a piece on a fellow alum, turned out to be Twyla Tharp.

Seems the decision by Caroline Miller was "put off" by 3 months to either scale back considerably or eliminate the dance column (obviously they waited until after the Kirov coverage)

There's been a lot of support from people.

ANd her favorite moments,

Gillian Murphy doing Swan Lake with a child screaming. Mark Morri's L'ALLERGRO

and the first time she saw a Balanchine ballet, Swan Lake with Diana Adams. "she came out to the stage and took this arabeque, and as far as I'm concerned, I was hooked forever."

Gia Kourlas opening states that locally and internationally the dance world is in an uproar and that "while the news might reveal as much abou the effects of a distressed economy as it does about the relevance of the art form within popular culture, the sad irony-that a magazine named after the very city where contemporary dance came to life would have no space for dance criticism- is not lost on Tobias and her peers".

Share this post


Link to post

Thanks, Calliope. I look forward to reading the article tonight, should my issue arrive on time.

In my letter to Ms. Miller, in addition to talking about NY as the center of dance and the need for continued critical coverage, I did bring up the issue of not always agreeing with Tobias' criticism. I stressed that as an additional reason I was so upset to lose her column. I talked about how I had learned a great deal from reading her reviews because she often saw things differently, offering me a different viewpoint, experience, and background... And, b/c she is such a strong writer, unlike those at another periodical, where the reviews are poorly written and barely critical (I cited the paper by name in the letter).

-amanda

Share this post


Link to post

Just so we know what we're up against...the latest issue has a gossipy feature on Heather Mills, the new Mrs. Paul McCartney.

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah.

Share this post


Link to post

Thanks for that tidbit, Patricia. I'm sure many more people ARE interested in Heather McC than Mark Morris or the Diamond Project, just as there are more people who buy McCartney's CD's than Beethoven's. But music is still covered!

Share this post


Link to post

I just received an email forwarded to me from someone who's on the Dance/USA mailing list, that included the following paragraphs:

As you may have heard, New York Magazine announced last week that it fired its dance critic, Tobi Tobias, and will no longer review dance. Dance/NYC has organized a national letter-writing campaign to the magazine protesting this most ill-considered move.  New York Magazine has a very large  nationwide subscription base, so this is an issue affecting not just New York City, but cultural coverage and criticism across the country, sending an unfortunate message about the value of dance criticism to periodicals and newspapers everywhere.  

In addition to individuals and dance organizations in New York City, those taking part in the campaign thus far are: The Field; Dance Theater Workshop; Alliance of Resident Theaters/NY (theater); Theater Communications Group (theater-national);  The Arts & Business Council; the New York Coalition for the Arts; New York Foundation for the Arts; New England Foundation for the Arts; Career Transitions for Dancers; IATSE (stagehands); AGMA; and SSDC (Directors & Choreographers), among others.

So if you hear that this is an issue of interest to only a handful of people, that's a good list to cite :)

Share this post


Link to post

I don't think Heather M., or the Hot Argentine Polo Players also featured, are taking up the space previously occupied by Tobias. NY has always run those. More likely, the space will be used for more ads, puff items, and color spreads of cheese.

Share this post


Link to post

I don't think that there is a block of space being traded--one thing for another, although that can happen. I think there is a block of space that vanished, which also happens. It's very unsettling. For instance, the dance paragraphs (larger and longer than listings) in the New Yorker got disappeared. The Performing Arts Preview of the Atlantic Monthly disappeared. Stagebill disappeared. It's very depressing.

Share this post


Link to post

Yes, it is depressing, and I think this is why the New York mag case has caused such an uproar. Always before, dance was cut back. But not cut out.

I don't think it's a lack of space. It's that They don't think dance matters. And that's why all the dance organizations have jumped on this one.

Repeating part of a prior post, since it's now on page 3 of this thread, and those clicking on now may not go back and see it, according to Dance/USA, the following have joined in an email/letter writing campaign to New York Magazine re the cutting of dance reviews: "The Field; Dance Theater Workshop; Alliance of Resident Theaters/NY (theater); Theater Communications Group (theater-national); The Arts & Business Council; the New York Coalition for the Arts; New York Foundation for the Arts; New England Foundation for the Arts; Career Transitions for Dancers; IATSE (stagehands); AGMA; and SSDC (Directors & Choreographers), among others."

Share this post


Link to post

The news has also been posted on a message board devoted to theater by someone who read it on this site (she linked to this thread). I posted a reply giving Caroline Miller's e-mail address, so there will be additional protests from people whose interest in dance is show-oriented. There seemed to be interest, based on the responses to the initial post.

Share this post


Link to post

This is the response I just received from Ms. Miller to my e-mail letter of protest (which was along the lines of others already present on this thread):

Dear Ms. Sloan,

Despite what you have heard going around the dance world, we are not

discontinuing our dance coverage. It's true that we did decide not to renew

Tobi Tobias's contract. We felt it was time for a change. But we will be

looking for a new voice, and in the meantime will make sure the bases are

covered in previews, listings and features by other writers. Like all

magazines-and all arts organizations-we're facing a tighter budget, and must

husband our resources carefully. But we are not abandoning the dance

community or any other of the arts communities in New York.

Caroline Miller

Share this post


Link to post
Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0