Classical 91.5

Rochester's daily paper lays off long-time music writer

Sep 20, 2017

The Democrat & Chronicle has laid off some news staff.

Jeff Spevak

Among those laid off was arts writer and music critic Jeff Spevak.  Over a nearly thirty-year career, Spevak earned five first-place finishes for features writing  for the D & C from the New York State Associated Press.

The union that represents some of the employees there, Newspaper Guild Local 17, released a statement saying its newsroom has been decimated by layoffs and buyouts in the last six years, with the number of Guild-represented employees cut by more than half.  The union says that in 2011 there were 86 Guild-represented employees in the newsroom and now there are about 32.

In Tuesday's statement  Newspaper Guild Local 17 acknowledged that some of the positions lost in the recent firings were due to advances in technology and changes in the way newspapers deliver their product.

The statement says the union believes the local D & C management team is passionate about the work done by the paper, but the Guild doesn’t believe Gannett leaders have a similar commitment to Rochester.  There was no immediate comment from the D & C or its parent company Gannett on Tuesday. But, earlier this month Gannett, which also owns USA TODAY and 109 local news properties, said it would undergo a corporate restructuring that would result in the eliminate of “less than 1% of employees.”

The company’s  president and CEO Robert Dickey, cited"difficult headwinds" related to print advertising.

The Democrat and Chronicle has not employed a full-time classical music writer for  a decade.  In 2017,  it stopped printing reviews of Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra concerts. 

In an e-mail to WXXI's Brenda Tremblay dated last April, Karen Magnuson, the Northeast Group Regional Editor for USA TODAY said,  "The simple truth is this: RPO reviews are not being read online, no matter what we try. If we work hard at producing something that is not finding an audience, we need to try a different approach. That approach is to produce arts stories that we know will resonate, based on experience. So we are shifting our priorities to RPO stories that focus more on the people behind the music and how they approach their craft."

It's not clear whether Spevak will be replaced with another D & C writer to cover music and the arts.