I am writing to express my confusion, sadness and frustration over the recent news that Owen McNally’s Jazz Riffs column is slated for cancellation. I am a jazz musician and educator, but more significantly here I am one of the many thousand Connecticut residents who see the arts as vital and hope I can offer a little bit of perspective on the short-sightedness of this decision.
I am conscious that these are hard times for newspapers and that, much like the situation faced by many schools, cost-cutting is fundamentally necessary. I have already sheepishly observed the reduction in coverage of jazz and related art forms and the letting-go of writers who knowledgeably and insightfully provided that service for the Courant’s readers. I will refrain from making a laundry list of those journalists because it is not my intention to resort to shaming or hyperbole and because I do not want to be naïve about the paper’s fiscal responsibilities. But Owen McNally? Really?
I don’t know precisely how long Mr. McNally has been writing about jazz for the Courant. He has been a part of my consciousness since I was a teenager at the Artists Collective in the early 1990s and just discovering jazz, and in my scholarly work I have read work of his dating back to the 1970s. Recently I was speaking to a national jazz media professional based in Pennsylvania and when discussing jazz in New England he immediately cited Mr. McNally’s work as the crowning example of jazz journalism in the region. With the passing of Jackie McLean in 2006, it is not an exaggeration to say that Mr. McNally provides us with a primary and necessary source of continuity and authority surrounding an art form that is fundamental to the cultural identity of Connecticut in general and the Greater Hartford region specifically.
This is a practical concern for the paper itself. I will not get into the morality behind this decision, although there will certainly be a profound negative impact to the community and to the ability of this art form to thrive locally. Ultimately, though, if that were the only concern, then the Courant would be well within its right to turn its back on jazz, the arts, the community of the Greater Hartford area or anyone or anything else it deemed inconsequential to its bottom line. Business is business, after all.
However, I have a hard time seeing this as inconsequential. How are we supposed to view this as anything but a prelude to utter irrelevance? Removing quality journalism that is unique to the Courant reeks of a homogenization that threatens the paper’s identity and credibility. If the Courant and the Tribune Company hold firm in this decision, the not-so-subtle message is that the arts and the people who care about the arts are not part of the bottom-line projections. From a corporate standpoint perhaps there is some merit to this notion, but looking at the actual community of people who read the Courant, it seems sadly delusional.
I hope that the Courant and the Tribune Company are willing to reconsider this foolish decision, both for the sake of the community and for its own sake. In a world in which people look for a “win-win” wherever possible, this is a sad case in which everybody loses.