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Donald Rosenberg, ousted Plain Dealer classical-music critic, talks about court loss

August 6, 2010 |  4:10 pm

Rosenberg Critics, as it is often said, like to have the last word in an argument. But on Friday, one outspoken critic lost his war of words with the very newspaper that employs him.

Donald Rosenberg, the former classical-music critic of Cleveland's the Plain Dealer, was pulled off his regular beat in 2008 after writing a number of highly critical articles aimed at the Cleveland Orchestra and specifically its music director, Franz Welser-Möst .

Claiming age discrimination and the damage of his reputation, among other things, Rosenberg, 58, filed suit in court against the Plain Dealer as well as the orchestra. The trial, which was closely watched by cultural leaders and journalists around the country, took close to four weeks to complete and included testimony and depositions from Welser-Möst, conductor Christoph von Dohnányi and the music critic Tim Page.

On Friday, an eight-member jury ruled against Rosenberg on all claims.

Speaking by phone, Rosenberg said he wasn't sure yet if he would challenge the decision. "My lawyer and I have not discussed that yet," he said.

"We were disappointed of course," he continued. "We knew from the outset that we would be charting unexplored waters. I was fully aware of the risks but that didn't stop me from standing up for my colleagues. I felt the issues of freedom of expression and critical independence needed to be addressed."

Rosenberg is still employed by the newspaper as an arts and entertainment reporter covering classical music, opera, dance and more. He said he still reviews concerts, but not those by the Cleveland Orchestra.

Rosenberg said his relationship with editors at the newspaper had been strained during the trial. "I don't know what it's going to be like now," he said. "My immediate supervisor is sympathetic so I work well with him. But the people above him -- I have not had communication with them."

Susan Goldberg, the Plain Dealer's editor, was responsible for reassigning Rosenberg in 2008. Her office referred inquiries to the newspaper's legal representation.

"I think the decision today confirms that the Plain Dealer has the right to change critics' and reporters' assignments at any time," said David Posner, the lawyer who represents the newspaper and Goldberg. "And there was never a consideration of age in the decision."

Posner is a lawyer with the firm Baker Hostetler.

Since he was pulled from his beat, Rosenberg said he has only been to see the Cleveland Orchestra twice on his own expense. "I've stayed away. It's just too painful to go," he said.

He added: "It's been a great orchestra and I wish it all the best."

-- David Ng

Photo: Donald Rosenberg. Credit: Plain Dealer

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