On some subconscious level, Bill Seitz must love The Cincinnati Enquirer. He talks about it passionately, criticizing its arts coverage with the fire of a Baptist preacher.
Just mention The Enquirer, and you'll get Seitz rambling for a good 15 minutes. You have to really care about something to spend so much time criticizing it.
On the surface, Seitz also hates The Enquirer. As a local artist, gallery director for The Carnegie in Covington and the instigator behind a petition calling for better arts coverage in the morning paper, he's dedicated to making the newspaper a better messenger for the arts community. (See the Feb. 1-7, 2001 Arts Beat column, "A Mandate for Change at The Enquirer," for a taste of Seitz's critical furor.)
Over the past year, he's done more networking on behalf of The Enquirer than most Enquirer employees. Still, he isn't convinced that his tough love has made any impact.
A little more than a year after Enquirer art critic Owen Findsen retired, writer Marilyn Bauer has been hired to fill his position.
But don't expect Seitz to begin his victory dance. In his opinion, The Enquirer's arts coverage is as bad as ever.
"I have a hard time believing that anything I did made any difference," Seitz says, speaking from his Prospect Hill home. "All I was trying to do was to be a match and light a fire. But I continue to read The Louisville Courier-Journal, which has a separate arts section that gives everyone a little play. I can't believe the arts community feels any better than they did a year ago. I know I don't. I ask myself: Why can Louisville do this? It's also a Gannett paper, just like The Enquirer. It's beyond belief."
It was back on Nov. 15, 2000, that Seitz first released his petition drive. By February 2001, he'd collected more than 1,200 signatures. More importantly, he mobilized a fractious arts community around a single cause.
A Febraury 2001 meeting between a few local arts administrators, Enquirer Editor Ward Bushee and Sara Pearce, assistant managing editor for features and online, was the one tangible result of Seitz's petition.
What's frustrating for Seitz is that Cincinnati boasts an arts community that puts most Midwest cities, Louisville included, to shame. He can't understand why The Enquirer is reluctant to improve its coverage on what's clearly Cincinnati's greatest asset. He also has some questions for The Enquirer's leading arts reporters.
"I want to know how Jackie Demaline feels about writing for a paper that doesn't have an arts section," he says. "She was the one who sparked the idea for the petition drive and told me to do it. Does she have a voice in all of this? I also want to ask Marilyn Bauer: How do you feel about coming to a paper without an arts section? Go back and look at a year's worth of Enquirers. You'll see a lot of Big Pig Gig stories, but you won't see much else."
Demaline says she doesn't remember telling Seitz to start the petition. Still, it's something she supports in spirit.
"He's being generous if he said I'm the one who told him to do it," Demaline says. "I'm happy to be considered a spark. I think any kind of citizen activism is a good thing."
Bauer referred all questions to Sara Pearce, who disagrees with Seitz's opinion about The Enquirer's arts coverage.
Seitz doesn't believe it when I tell him that most of us at CityBeat also want The Enquirer to be a better newspaper. After all, wouldn't it be great if Cincinnati's paper of record felt more relevant to our lives?
Cynics will tell you that The Enquirer will never dramatically improve its arts coverage, but Seitz keeps on complaining. As I said, he loves to hate our morning daily. He's the match that keeps on burning.