Edmonton Journal arts section gutted

Liz Nicholls GigCity Edmonton

Liz Nicholls

Arts journalism in print form in this city has taken a terrible hit with the sudden departure of two of the Edmonton Journal’s veteran columnists.

Theatre writer Liz Nicholls and music writer Sandra Sperounes and have both taken buyouts and will leave the paper on Dec. 2. The owners PostMedia announced in October it was going to cut staff across the board by 20%, voluntary buyouts first, layoffs if there aren’t enough volunteers.

This comes in the wake of the announcement of a cutback of arts coverage in the Journal’s print edition to four days a week.

Fish Griwkowsky and Liane Faulder remain on the arts and entertainment staff at The Journal. No word on who, if anyone, will fill the gaps. They still have a freelance budget. Other longtime journalists in other sections will also be leaving, four more in total, according to one source. Mack Male reported that Arts & Life editor Keri Sweetman will be leaving in January, and that on online petition to “Save Edmonton Journal’s arts coverage” is getting healthy support. At the PostMedia-owned Calgary Herald, meanwhile, the brilliant music writer Mike Bell has also taken a buyout after 10 years on the job.

Sperounes, who’d been on the Edmonton music beat for 18 years, declined to comment immediately, but on Facebook thanked all the musicians she’s written about, “To be able to share your talent, your stories, your songs … THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart.”

The local music community is sending the love right back, and has planned a “Well Done Sandra” gig in December.

Sandra Sperounes

Sandra Sperounes

Liz Nicholls, who started at The Journal in 1982, plans to start a not-for-profit website to continue her theatre writing. In a letter circulated to Edmonton’s theatre community, she writes, “Theatre’s my passion, and my continuing education – thanks to you and your generosity! And theatre is what I want to write about, exclusively.”

Nicholls also didn’t respond to a request for comment, but she, too, enjoys plenty of love and support from the scene she covered for 34 years. Esteemed local playwright and novelist Marty Chan says all that needs to be said: “Liz Nicholls was the kind of theatre critic who embraced the community. She reviewed theatre veterans and newbies with equal passion, willing to give ink to those who hadn’t yet made a name for themselves. I remember she introduced herself to me at the Fringe. She had just seen my play, Polaroids of Don. She was supportive and encouraging but also honest. I longed for her praise, but it was her honesty that made me respect her.”

This is such a sad yet familiar scenario. PostMedia had previously acquired ownership of both the Edmonton Sun and the Edmonton Journal. In February, they merged the two newsrooms, gutting The Sun, though it already been thoroughly eviscerated and demoralized by its previous owner Pierre Karl Peladeau of Quebecor – and resulting in the embarrassment of having the same stories word for word appear identically in both of Edmonton’s daily newspapers, a fact noticed by all seven people who still buy both newspapers.

Hey, news is free on the Internet, which of course created this whole mess to begin with.

As for the future of arts journalism in Edmonton, it’s right here – on the Internet.

Liz will be launching her site soon, at 12thnight.ca.

For her part, Sperounes talked about moving forward in her post, “I’m sad, I’m scared, and I’m also giddy about the future. I don’t know what I’ll be doing next, but I will always find a way to cheer on the scene. It’s just a part of who I am.”

2 Responses to Edmonton Journal arts section gutted

  1. Prudence Olwnik

    November 29, 2016 at 12:48 PM

    What an absolute shame on you EDMONTON JOURNAL

  2. Bill Bean

    November 30, 2016 at 1:12 AM

    But please, please, please, leave the Sports staff intact, because the coverage of football and hockey teams on their “away” games is so important for the socio-cultural essence of Edmonton and its people….