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You Winn Some, You Lose Some

December 9, 2008

Steven Winn, the eminent cultural critic and reporter from The San Francisco Chronicle, just penned his last column for the city's flagging flagship newspaper.

In a way, this shouldn't even qualify as news: Comings and goings -- especially goings -- are as common as unmarked graves in a war zone at media organizations across the land these days, so Winn's departure is hardly surprising. Winn even hinted to me himself that he was thinking about moving on a few months ago when I met him for coffee at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. It was the first time I'd met him in person and I'm still struck by how generous and candid he was with me that day about his job and future plans -- I was a total stranger after all.

There seems little point in regurguitating the usual diatribe about how the media is going to hell and arts journalism is dying. (Arts journalism is very much alive, actually -- it's just going through a period of readjustment.) So let's just take it as read that it was time for Winn to go.

Still, I will miss Winn's presence in The Chronicle. He is one of the city's liveliest cultural voices. For a time, the paper gave him a great role: Rather than restricting this man of peripatetic appetites to writing solely about theatre (which he did for 22 years as The Chron's lead theatre critic) the powers that be gave him carte blanche, more or less, to write about culture in the Bay Area in its broadest form. I loved reading Winn's articles because you never knew what they'd be about from one issue of the paper to the next. The man wrote fluidly about everything from Hollywood blockbuster movies to classical music to art exhibitions.

In an economically happier, more media-friendly climate and market, newspapers, magazines, radio, Internet and TV properties would be elbowing each other out of the way to snatch Winn up. But we're in San Francisco at the tail end of a beleaguering year. I wonder what 2009 will bring for Winn?

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