Column 197: The Music Writers; XYZ Affair tonight…

Category: Blog — @ 6:52 pm November 6, 2008

The rumors of Niz’s departure from the music section of the Omaha World-Herald actually began at least six months ago. I flat out asked her about her status back then, and she denied that a change was imminent. And then a few months ago, I started hearing about people “from the outside” applying for her job. It seems none of them passed muster. I don’t know anything about Kevin Coffey except that publisher John Heaston told me Coffey did a brief internship at the Reader and used to edit The Creightonian (He graduated from Creighton in 2006). He got his start at the World-Herald in ’06 working on their online media. And now he assumes the position of Music Reporter. Will we be seeing him at shows (other than those at The Qwest)?

Column 197: Chasing Ghosts
A changing of the guard at the OWH.

I heard from a friend of a friend that Niz Proskocil has left the music beat at the Omaha World-Herald.

I couldn’t get an actual, dyed-in-the-wool confirmation from Niz because she had to run it past her editors, and after almost a week, still nothing. These kinds of staff changes aren’t reported by the paper unless the position in question is editor-in-chief or a rung beneath it. Changes in lower-rung jobs, like beat reporters, are treated as gossip. It’s the kind of inside poop that the editors figure no one would — or should — care about. They’re wrong, of course. The politicians and businessmen who are studied and dissected by these journalists obviously care. As for the rest of their readers, well, unless it involves the Huskers, does it matter who’s writing the stories? Not really. Other than the name on the masthead, news is anonymous. Readers remember the headline, not the byline. An exception to the rule is columnists and critics, who are defined by their unique style and opinion. But that guy covering City Hall or the western Iowa education beat — he’s a ghost.

The music beat must be a thankless job at dailies, looked down upon by the reporters doing “the important stuff,” whatever that is. The type of reader who wants to know about this weekend’s CD release shows probably doesn’t read the World-Herald. The editors know this and act accordingly, which is one of the reasons why we only get the weekend edition at my house.

There are those among us, however, who have followed the World-Herald‘s music criticism for a long, long time. For me, it started with Steve Millburg, who mainly wrote about movies. He was a critic during — or just after — the downfall of Peter Citron, a guy remembered more for charges involving child porn than for his years and years of writing restaurant and movie criticism, something Citron did well, though no one will ever admit it. I guess it doesn’t matter anymore, now that he’s dead.

Millburg held a place of prominence in the long-defunct World-Herald Sunday Entertainment section — a smart, self-contained weekly guide that included movie, music, book and art reviews, travel information, a TV guide and a crossword puzzle. Later in the week, long after the rest of the Sunday paper had been thrown away, the Entertainment section remained on the coffee table. Whether it was economics (maybe) or just a bad decision (probably), the World-Herald did away with the Entertainment section years ago, integrating some of its contents into the rest of the Sunday paper, while placing the weekend listings and band features in Thursday’s wispy Go! section.

So while my dad painstakingly studied the want ads and mom read the Living section (the sports section went unread), I grabbed Entertainment from the Sunday stack. Millburg usually had a column and a page of capsule reviews. Sometimes he wrote about music too, but that was rare. Though the rest of the OWH was a blank recitation of facts, Millburg wrote with a voice. Along with Citron’s, it was the first voice I ever read in a newspaper. It would be a voice that would be in the back of my mind throughout college.

A quick Google search reveals that Millburg is now living in Birmingham, Alabama, writing novels and doing the occasional freelance assignment.

After Millburg was Roger Catlin, a younger guy with plenty of attitude who wrote about bands like Elvis Costello and The Cucumbers. Roger didn’t last long at the Herald. Today he writes a television column for the Hartford Courant.

Next in the barrel were Jim Minge and Tony Moton — the first OWH reporters that I remember seeing at rock shows. Moton left the World-Herald in ’99 and went on to write screen plays. Minge, as we all know, now runs the City Weekly.

They were followed by Christine Laue. Though Minge and Moton tried to cover local music, it was Laue who really made it a focus and a cornerstone of the just-created Go! section back in ’01. Niz took over after Laue was moved to the fashion and pop culture beat. Today, Laue writes about condos and shopping centers.

Niz continued to cover local music even after the World-Herald pointed her squarely in the direction of the Qwest Center and its county-fair touring bands — which are, after all, what the editors assume the majority of their readers care about. They’re probably right, even though the real story — the one that defines Omaha nationally as an indie music Mecca — is taking place in small bars and local venues where tomorrow’s stars are honing their craft.

A couple weeks ago, the rumors about Niz became reality, as her byline disappeared from Go! and reappeared in the Money section. Her replacement appears to be Kevin Coffey.

There is significance to this changing of the guard. As a musician once told me after an interview — it’s nice to get featured in the alt weeklies, but to be in The Omaha World-Herald, well, “my parents read the World-Herald.” It’s a “big deal.” So while that musician will use my Reader story for packaging material, the World-Herald story will be cut out and framed; it will be read 20 years from now by his children.

Whether he knows it or his fellow reporters know or his editors and publisher know it, Coffey has one of the most important jobs at the World-Herald, at least in the minds of the army of musicians, club owners, record shop proprietors and everyone else who makes a living in this town from music. All eyes are on you, Kevin. Let’s see what you’ve got. Don’t let them turn you into a ghost.

* * *

XYZ Affair tonight at The Waiting Room. I really dug their recordings. Their live set? Well, when they came through here in February, it was somewhat disappointing. Here’s my review of that show:

Finally, the headliners, XYZ Affair, a four-piece that brought more than its share of hubris to the stage. As one guy said to me, this is what Weezer would sound like if they were a bunch of jocks. I didn’t dislike them quite that much. I mean, who can dislike a band that starts its set with an a cappella version of the intro to Prince’s “7”? Frontman Alex Feder doesn’t really sound like Death Cab’s Ben Gibbard as much as John Darnielle backed by a bar band. Flamboyant, yes, and with plenty of falsetto. Not bad, not terribly memorable. I have no doubt that their common-man pop sense will some day land this unsigned band on a major label.

I wonder if they’ve down-scaled their cheesiness over the past year. We’ll find out tonight. Opening the show is Omaha/Des Moines/Omaha transplant Adam Haug. $7, 9 p.m

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