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The San Diego Union-Tribune lays off art critic Robert Pincus

June 21, 2010 - 6:30 pm

Robert Pincus

Robert L. Pincus was among the approximately 35 people laid off by the San Diego Union-Tribune last Thursday.

When news hit the local art scene, people openly expressed their anger and concern.

“It’s been kind of overwhelming,” said Pincus, whose e-mail, Twitter and Facebook inboxes have been flooded with messages from well-wishers since the announcement went public.

The response was so widespread that one local artist even sent me a Facebook message in what sounded like an upset call-to-action.

“Is there anything that can be done about this?” asked the artist. “What the hell?”

As the book and art critic at the daily paper for more than two decades, Pincus’ work has reached all corners of the San Diego art world—from the city’s big arts institutions and museums to emerging artists just introducing their work.

When Jeff Light, the new editor at the U-T, stepped into his position in early March of this year, Pincus and others who are now unemployed say they had no idea what direction the paper would take.

Pincus said he began to sense a somewhat wavering support for visual arts, but he thought his job was safe. He was, after all, one of the only staff writers covering the visual arts.

“I’m worried about arts coverage, clearly,” Pincus said. “We were stretched thin as it was.”

In an editor’s note last Friday, Light did briefly mention the paper’s new direction. “We will have a restaurant critic, a shopping column and a traffic column, as well as coverage of pop and classical music, theater and fine art,” he wrote. “And we will add a critic-at-large who ventures beyond entertainment and the arts.”

Mostly, Light focused on the paper upping its business reporting.

“I think it’s a form of disrespecting the visual-arts community, saying they’re not terribly important,” Pincus said. “In other words, they don’t need a voice among critics. I don’t think I’m saying anything that isn’t really obvious. It seems like it’s not important enough to keep arts coverage, but another priority was to add on business writers. I think it’s a bad thing because the arts community is large. It’s a very substantial community, and for them not to have equally substantial coverage is really fairly poor.”

So far, Light hasn’t responded to my requests for comments regarding the future of the U-T‘s visual-arts coverage.

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 22, 2010 - 11:00 am 11:00 am

    Here’s an email Jeff Light sent out. I’m guessing it went out to all those who complained or expressed concerns about Pincus’ layoff:

    Several of you have written to me about the future of our coverage of books and visual arts.
    I want to thank you all for your outpouring of concern for the life of the mind in our community.
    I understand your distress at the changes that you see unfolding in the media, in publishing, and here at the U-T. You see it as a reader; I see it from my seat in the editor’s chair. Cherished ideas, assumptions and relationships are at risk of being transformed – in some cases diminished or even lost. >From either of our perspectives, the readers’ or the editor’s, it is clear that this is a discussion that reaches far beyond the arts. We all know: The future will not look like the past.

    That said, you should know that we have no plans to eliminate coverage of either the visual arts or of books.

    We will increase the presence of visual arts coverage in our Sunday Arts section. You should see, over time, more of what is happening at our museums and galleries, and hear more from the artists and curators themselves. Jim Chute, an esteemed member of the U-T’s arts team, will lead this work. That is on the plus side of the ledger.

    On books, you may see more on local authors, events, readings and book clubs, but, I expect, less coverage overall. For many of you, that will be a minus.

    Why are we making these changes?

    San Diego’s galleries, museums and visual artists are local. Like our musicians, actors and theaters, they are part of the fabric of our community.

    The community of books is different. It is a broad world — international, thematic and genre-specific. But it is only occasionally local.

    If there were a day when America’s literary conversation happened in its metropolitan newspapers, that day is gone. So, while we will continue to cover the local writing scene, we will not try to be the place you look to learn about the world of books.

    As editor, I regret the loss of all the journalists who have seen their careers interrupted and their lives turned upside down. Each is a skilled professional dedicated to a significant part of our community. All have both personal and professional advocates.

    I take our responsibility to San Diego and to our profession to heart. Dozens of us at the U-T have worked for months to craft a vision for a vibrant and exciting future. We are pursuing that plan in good faith and to the best of our abilities, though wrenching decisions are involved.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me on these important subjects. I will do my best to reach out to you as we redesign the paper this summer.

    Jeff Light
    San Diego Union-Tribune
    (619) 293-1201

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