By Jeff Stark
Eleven months on, the Chronicle still hasn't filled the position of departed pop music critic Michael Snyder. As a second-string writer Snyder balanced senior critic Joel Selvin's wintry coverage of classic-rock oldsters and all things Grateful Dead. In Snyder's absence, the paper is back to only Selvin -- the same sad situation that Snyder was supposed to have alleviated some three years ago.
Though Selvin concedes that it has been a long time since Snyder left, he says papers often dally with new hires. He claims that the search has turned up at least 100 strong resumes. Until recently, handicappers put the LA Times' Steve Hochman and the Detroit Free Press' Susan Whitehall on the paper's short-list. (Chron Entertainment Editor Liz Lufkin denies this.) Word now is that the paper is still looking. "Because it is a union position, and it has security built into it, the Chronicle management is scrupulous in filling it," Selvin says.
Oddly enough, the paper's music coverage has arguably gotten stronger in the interregnum. While doggedly covering his beat (eight Dead-related stories this year), Selvin has brought in younger writers to cover acts whose fans don't wear tie-dye. Still, much of the new blood is buried in the Sunday Datebook, with coverage during the week sagging. And besides, a self-respecting daily needs a central voice in its pop music coverage, particularly as newspaper readership continues to fall among young adults.
"I've almost written off daily newspapers as a place where I could go for music coverage," says BAM's Bay Area editor, Bill Crandall. "I should add that it's not rock music. Now it's the quote-unquote alternative that they miss, but if Pete Townshend does a rock opera they're there."
Of course, it could be worse. It could be the Examiner. Call the paper's office and ask for the rock music editor and the operator stumbles through the phone list before announcing Barry Walters. Barry Walters the film critic? Out of 65 stories inked by Mr. Walters this year, only 10 featured music; the rest of the time he's at the movies. In the Examiner of late, only Craig Marine has regularly written about music from this decade, and he just got transferred to the metro desk. Beyond him, things get ugly.
Consider the Ex's coverage of the Tibetan Freedom Concert in June. Staff writer Jane Ganahl, previously on the "Lettermania" beat, proffered this observation about the Beastie Boys: "I have to say, about them and several other groups of the weekend: I just don't get it. What makes this appealing? The shouting of lyrics, the synthesized backbeat, the lack of melody? Will they be playing these guys in 15 years on the radio?"
Translation: "Kids these days. Harrumph."
By Jeff Stark
An editing error resulted in the misspelling of the name of a candidate for the Chronicle's rock critic position ("Critical Void," Samples, Aug. 14). The story should have referred to the Detroit News' Susan Whitall.