Lawson Taitte, who’s been the Dallas Morning News‘ theater critic since 1996, has announced he’ll retire after 21 years at the paper. He’s actually been writing about the area arts scene for much longer — since 1971, when he started with Texas Monthly and WRR-FM. He’s reviewed classical concerts and CDs and restaurants — I think he may have seen more and knows more about Dallas-area arts than anyone alive. I was the theater critic at the News when he came onboard at the paper as the second-string critic. When I switched to covering books in 1996, he stepped up as the lead drama critic. Lawson was also one of the original critics who worked with me, Judy Kelly and Martha Heimberg to found the Dallas Theater Critics Forum, now the DFW Theater Critics Forum. I’m grateful for him for that, and area theater artists might well be, too.
Although Lawson’s official last day is the last of the year, he has vacation time, so he reports he actually will stop writing for the paper on Dec. 17.
Lawson doesn’t say anything about possible replacements. So I suspect the News will continue its recent, innovative approach to arts coverage, trying to find an area university that will go halfsies to attract and pay for a professor-reviewer. This approach has gotten national attention — other newspapers are watching to see how well it works. And it has brought some significant talent to the News‘ culture department in the form of architecture critic Mark Lamster and fine arts critic Richard Brettell.
What hasn’t been noted so much is that this shared approach essentially declares big-city arts criticism is dead as a full-time newspaper job. Certainly, it is at the city’s leading paper. This approach won’t be followed with the restaurant reviewer for the simple reason that eateries provide too much advertising revenue for the paper, and they want that coverage, those rankings. But consider if the News had done this with, say, its lead sports columnists. The fact is, the Cowboys and the Mavericks really don’t advertise that much with the paper; they don’t have to. The paper already gives them rabid coverage and a daily section. The outcry and mockery would have come from readers and other area media that cover sports — I don’t think the paper would tolerate such a serious decline in its reputation.
Better still, what if the News made its op-ed writers and editors into part-timers? How would the News‘ reputation fare then?
But the newspaper’s cultural coverage? That can be jobbed out.
Given all this, one can honestly declare there’ll never be another theater critic like Lawson in Dallas.