Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Ed Bumgardner

From the Winston-Salem Journal, February 3, 2009:

Winston-Salem Journal cuts two workers in newsroom

Two journalists in the Winston-Salem Journal's newsroom were let go yesterday as part of the newspaper's cost-cutting moves. One was on the newspaper's design team, whose members create graphics and lay out and design pages. The other was Ed Bumgardner, a longtime music critic and features writer.

Like many newspapers and companies in other industries, the Journal has been trying to reduce costs as revenues drop during an extremely difficult business environment.


(Oops, sorry, that was the title for the next section of corrections...)

In an effort to streamline the costs of running a print newspaper, the Winston-Salem Journal has fired Ed Bumgardner, the long-time music writer and an old friend of mine.

Ed has been the consistent source of music reportage in town for many years and has been a distinct, informative and original voice at the Journal. His interviews inevitably show his conversance with the subject of popular music in the quality of his questions. In his reviews, especially, this reader finds much drollery, mirth and enthusiasm, the kind of 'rock criticism' that Ed and others of my generation grew up with and enjoyed, from CREEM and the early National Lampoon through Musician and New York Rocker magazines. Our passion for the music was confirmed through passionate writers like Lester Bangs, Greil Marcus, John Mendelsohn, Peter Guralnick and Richard Meltzer, whom we adored and absorbed like the great musicians to whom they exposed us.

Ed is not afraid to go against the popular flow of culture in order to preserve and defend what he sees and hears as imperatives in music: high standards in song, performance and image, and the ability to see past the folly of grown men with guitars getting older and maybe not wiser. Part of this comes from his own bass-playing and record-buying background, but much has simply developed over years of toiling for the Journal, confronted with editors, deadlines, shitty-but-grossly-popular new albums, interesting near-dead blues guys and the latest country music sensation's dietary habits when in the Camel City.

Now he's confronted with ad revenue and the dying stature of the printed newspaper, and Ed gets to sacrifice his gig to help the Journal turn into a newswire compendium that bears little resemblance to the local paper it used to want to be.

I sort of wish he'd barricade himself in his office, like some apocryphal WTOB disc jockey, splattering out wildly yawing reviews and general yammerings that he slips under the door or faxes to the printing department to be entered into type by sleight-of-hand, as we feed him junk food and cheap drinks via carrier pigeon through his window. But I also think that won't happen, that the brass at the Journal will merely pave over his splendid tenure's legacy with glorified press releases and Articles of a General Nature, the end of the paper's local music writer tradition will be at hand, and Ed will find another outlet.

I dug getting to grow up with Ed, playing and talking rock music with him; but I guess his prowess as a writer completely surprised me in that I just didn't realize he had it in him. Sometimes, when I've talked with him in one of our lazy, you-won't-believe-this kind of phone calls that we've had over the years, I wonder if Ed even knew he 'had it in him' before he got hooked on it. What he has done with 'it' is an inpiration for me, personally, as someone who likes to write; he developed a voice before our eyes, and it did not take long before it was a good strong natural one, too. In a city with a storied past and active present and future in music, the sense of Ed's writing reflects his love and understanding of his locale, as well as his ability to see beyond the city limits--which could very well be where he must look next. Ed's years at the Journal kept Winston-Salem informed and entertained, and whether you agreed with him or not on his take on Bob Dylan, likely as not, he piqued your curiosity on something else you didn't know you might love.

I'm positive we have not read the last of Ed Bumgardner, only in the pages of the Journal. Losing this identifiable voice for the arts will lose the paper readership and good local content, even if their management's sole concern is with the former as it applies to generating the almighty dollar.


Moose said...

That is sad news. This is at least the 2nd, if not the 3rd round of cuts at the Journal. I had wondered about him during the last publicized round of cuts. Sorry he didn't make it through this one. Ed had "street cred" too. You knew he had been in the trenches at one point and knows what the musician's life is like. The amazing thing about these cuts at the Journal, and other media outlets, is that they still need content! Some media types are just beginning to figure this out. Whether it's printed on paper or printed online something has to be printed for them to have something to sell... which means someone still has to write it!! Plus the more compelling it is the more people will actually want to read it.Which then means more people will actually see the ads they are trying to sell. All media has been dominated by the need to sell while the content side has been virtually eliminated. It is only now that these folks are starting to realize they have nothing to sell.

man with a bass 4 kids and a wife said...

Well said Mr. Holsapple. We will miss him here that's for sure.
I hope he has something else brewing.
He wrote some good stories about me.
We were talking one day and he said "people say I write about you too much. But, hell, if somebody does something around here, I'll write about it." You gotta love that.

Ben Towle said...

Yeah, that was my rant about Ed's Dylan review... but, as you say, whether or not you agree with any particular review of his, he was a great writer and an asset to the Winston music scene and will be missed. Honestly, if there's anything newspapers need to be doing right now, it's focusing MORE on local stuff. Ditching Ed makes zero sense.