John Fleming to retire as Tampa Bay Times performing arts critic after 28 years at the company
It's on a par with hearing Carnegie Hall has closed its doors or the Rolling Stones are breaking up.
But after nearly three decades documenting local and national fine arts stories for the Tampa Bay Times, performing arts critic John Fleming has decided to retire.
John's been an inspiration and a great grounding influence on the newspaper's arts staff; in my jobs as pop music critic and TV critic, I've loved trading stories and ideas when our various worlds intersect.
What I've admired most about John is his ability to write sharp, opinion-filled reviews in one moment and turn out deeply-reported, substantive features stories the next and follow that with a front-page news story, if needed. At a time when so many newspapers have made the short-sighted decision to lay off arts critics -- especially those who don't work often in the worlds of pop culture -- John's work always provided a potent argument for why such coverage is crucial for a news publication in a thriving city.
Editors announced John's impending departure, scheduled June 30, with an email to the staff sent out earlier today. You can read it below:
"This is a doozy: After 28 years with Times Publishing, John Fleming is retiring.
The reason this news is so tough is simple: John is one of the sharpest, most knowledgeable and well-respected critics anywhere. It’s an unusual writer who can make an obscure classical piece accessible one day and deconstruct Rocky Horror in the Park the next.
But it’s an even rarer critic who does both with unflinching authority. His strong standing has led to more exclusives than I can count, plus a trip to Cuba with members of the Florida Orchestra and a stint this year judging the Pulitzers for drama.
John took an unusual path to becoming a performing arts critic. He did radio news, and freelanced for five years in Chicago. He was managing editor and then editor of the Times-owned business magazine Georgia Trend in Atlanta before joining the Times in 1991. Though he was an editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Sunday magazine for five years, he had never before experienced the grind of a daily newspaper. He had never written a deadline review.
He got the hang of it:
“What I have most enjoyed is the day in, day out work of a daily newspaper. In a perverse sort of way, I will miss the raffish hours of the performing arts job, always working nights and weekends. I suppose even the sweaty scramble to get on top of those breaking news stories that come up at 5 or 6 p.m. will be missed someday. But most of all I will miss the newspaper milieu, and the truly great people who work (and have worked) at the Times.”
More than anything, I will miss John’s steady, sunny presence in the newsroom. There’s a reason readers, the arts community and, heck, Times editors look to John: He knows what he is talking about. He makes us all smarter. Plus, there is no one harder-working, nicer or more generous.
But to John, the time seems right to retire:
“I recently realized that things have come full circle for me here. At the first Florida Orchestra concert I attended in September 1991, tagging along with Jim Harper who was doing his last review and showing me the ropes, the centerpiece of the program was Stravinsky's masterpiece of modernism the Rite of Spring. When I cover my final orchestra concert as performing arts critic on May 24, the centerpiece of the program will be ... the Rite of Spring.”
His last day is June 30. Take a well-deserved bow, John. **LOUD APPLAUSE **