Tuesday, September 11, 2012

I oughta get a fedora

Here's my latest SFCV article, a set of previews of what I consider to be interesting local concerts this fall.1 Just a regular roundup, except for those introductory paragraphs, and there's a story behind that, a story in which I actually played news reporter for a bit.

Back in early August, I saw an article in the Mercury News reporting that San Jose's charming chamber music venue, Le Petit Trianon, might be closing. Uh-oh. I forwarded it to Janos Gereben, who put it in the weekly news column he writes for SFCV.

So when Michael Zwiebach, my editor, called me up two weeks later and asked for a set of fall previews in a hurry for an upcoming compilation article - I wrote them in one pass that evening, which accounts for some awkward phrasing - the elephant on the table was the status of the Trianon. Nothing had appeared in the newspaper since the original article, and the websites of the groups and sponsoring societies that play there listed the venue as normal, as if nothing was wrong. I was assigned the task of finding something out. So I phoned up several of these groups and left messages on their voicemails, identifying myself as a writer for SFCV and asking for anything they knew about what was going on and anything they could say about what they were planning to do about it.

The first person I heard back from was the publicist for the San Jose Chamber Music Society. She sounded a little taken off-balance by the question, and wasn't sure she could say anything for publication.2 I said, "Look, this news is out there, and your concertgoers are going to ask about it. You need to have some kind of response ready, and it's my job to report that." She rang off to go confer, and soon afterwards I got a call from the president of the society, who did have the authority to speak for them. I framed his comments into a concise statement, read it back to him, got his OK, and that's what appears by his name in the article.

Later on, I got calls back from some of the other groups, and they all said pretty much the same thing: they'd talked to the owners, they expected the venue would be available at least for this concert season, and they were making backup plans, just in case, that they weren't releasing yet.

In the meantime, the editors' plans for a big compilation article failed to materialize, and my news report sat unused. Another two weeks later, I got another call from my editor, asking for an update. This time I had a better idea. Rather than talk again to the performing groups, since the only information they had was from the building's owner, I decided to go straight to the source. So I drove down to the theater and visited its office, introducing myself as a reporter for SFCV. There I talked to a man who told me his position with the owning corporation, though he didn't give his own full name, and it was he who told me that they'd filed for bankruptcy protection. The only problem was that this had just happened, and they hadn't had time to tell their clients and lessees yet. This was last Thursday, and they were planning to get the word out on Friday. I said fine, we're publishing on Monday (as it turned out, it was Tuesday), so we'll just hold it till then.

In the event, I was scooped by the Mercury, which had an article on Saturday saying pretty much the same things I'd been told. So, no news scoop for me, but few outside the immediate local area read the Mercury, so it's still fairly newsworthy, and the editors were happy. And I must say that I find the reporting side of this job to be more enjoyable when it involves eking hard facts about venues out of arts administrators - even if I didn't really get many - than when it consists of trying to think of productive interview questions to ask famous conductors over the phone.

1. Just the South Bay ones are mine. The Mondavi Center listings at the end are by someone else, whose name was also on the article when it was first posted. That's the last remnant of the original compilation plan, the other parts of which were published separately.
2. Actually, first she told me her understanding of what was going on, and then she asked me not to publish it on her authority. Don't ever try that with a real reporter.

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