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Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes - "Pointe" Editor-in-Chief Virginia Johnson and Reviews Editor Robert Johnson laid off at McFadden Media

by Lori Ortiz
January 26, 2009
On my birthday, January 14th, I received a message from Robert Johnson, former reviews editor at "Pointe" magazine. This was the bulk of it.: "I regret to inform you that there have been some changes at "Pointe." Virginia Johnson and I no longer work there, and the magazine will not print reviews in the future."

It was quite a shock. These are strange times. This morning I read about John A. Thain's "prominent departure" (front page, today's Times) from his job at Merrill Lynch. Thain was reportedly the brokerage firm's savior. At the cusp of their merger with Bank of America, he was booted with about fifteen minutes notice. In his case there was the small matter of $1.2 million spent on office decorations. The swift removal of the "Pointe" editors was equally incredible, but unfair.

When I pointed out my heroes at a catered, pre-performance press gathering several years ago, my guest was surprised. They were neither imperious nor ostentatious. Virginia once told me she hadn't the budget to travel to a particular out-of-town blockbuster. They took their jobs seriously and earned serious regard— but were deemed unessential. The culling was, evidently, one of the dance publishing company's resolutions in this new year of precarious economics.

It's been at least a year since DANCE had to move their offices to the "Pointe" Williams St. location. About two years before that money-saving step, "Pointe" went bi-monthly. Now, more belt tightening. Two more dance-world casualties. Two among our most respected print journalists and a reviews section bite the dust, in this gradual, merging of "DANCE," "Pointe," and offspring "Dancemedia.com."

Virginia = "Pointe." She didn't always see things my way but her way was better. As a dance artist and someone with everyday contact with dancers, she added to my capacity for empathy. Robert is vice president of the Dance Critics Association. He directly edited my "Pointe" reviews and with patient prodding, got me to see disconnects in my thinking/ writing, or at least agree to them. In writing for print, there is no later. My reviews passed through many hands before going to print. Will future critics have the same checks and balances, the same opportunities to improve their craft?

I considered these editors scions. Partly, because they were never too important to be civilized, to say hello, to have a conversation. I was encountering the curiosity and open-mindedness that is the hallmark of good journalism. Yet in Robert's summary at the end of a DCA panel on advice to young critics, he brought up an important point. Never let the comments of another critic, no matter how important, take precedence over your own observations.

"Pointe" was a home for writers' singular backgrounds and visions. The reader heard a multitude of critical voices in the reviews section. How inclusive is the succeeding era of citizen journalism and clubs?

"I believe the powers that be have wanted to dump the reviews section for some time. Virginia was a big supporter of reviews, so it didn't happen on her watch," said Robert in an email.

Managing editor Hanna Rubin kindly passed on a message I wrote to Virginia after hearing the news. She confirmed, "I was let go from "Pointe" for financial reasons. I was very sorry that one of their first decisions was to kill the reviews section."

As a "Pointe" subscriber and an occasional "Pointe" writer I feel the loss. I also lament the future of printed criticism. I thank these editors for their genuine openness, ethicality, and rigorous questioning. If ballet is at a turning point, (sorry,) I regret the loss of an important forum.
Virginia Johnson, seven years as 'Pointe' Editor-in-Chief (center.)

Virginia Johnson, seven years as "Pointe" Editor-in-Chief (center.)

Photo © & courtesy of Lori Ortiz

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