Milwaukee Scribe: Goodbye and Good Luck

After 31 years in Milwaukee arts journalism, the last four as senior editor at TCD, Tom Strini turns the page.
September 2nd, 2013 |
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strini-and-beethoven

Strini and Beethoven. Lacy Landre shot and designed this image for a TCD ad that ran in an MSO program book.

On July 31, 2009, I left the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel after 27 years. On Aug. 3 of that year, at the invitation of Jon Anne Willow, I became a partner at then-Third Coast Digest, now-Third Coast Daily. The TCD chapter closes for me on Sept. 2. This is my last story for this website.

The last four years have been the most difficult and in some ways the most rewarding of my career. Last September, John Shannon bought out my stake as well as those of Willow, Mehrdad Dalamie and silent partner Chris Abele. John guaranteed the payroll since then. Until he did, our policy was to pay our bills, employees and freelance help first and, if anything was left over, ourselves. (That will sound familiar to the owner of any under-capitalized small business.) Often, nothing was left over. Thanks, John – it’s been great knowing that a check would arrive every two weeks.

I’m leaving TCD at this time because the business development that I had hoped for has not occurred, and I cannot enter another arts season without the staffing to continue to execute at a high level on the editorial side or to pursue new revenue streams on the business side. My exit will open the door for John to develop a somewhat different business/editorial model for TCD. I will leave it to him and to Matthew Reddin, who’s staying on as managing editor, to explain that model and roll out TCD’s new role in the arts community.

At the newspaper, I had to worry only about myself; I wrote the stories and that was that. At TCD, especially since January of 2012, I had to set priorities for our writers and editors; assign stories; edit hundreds of stories; share the load, primarily with our managing editors and photo editor Angela Morgan, in selecting, cropping and inserting images; and generally make sure that we outworked all other media combined in arts coverage. And we did; no one came close to the quantity and quality of our coverage of theater, music, visual art and dance. We also excelled at travel (thanks, Rob Bundy) and fashion (thanks, Kimberly Gomez). We produced videos, we wrote stories, we combined with arts groups on promotions, we published guides. We came to own that space in this market. But we could only keep that up through superhuman effort on the part of our managing editors during my tenure: Matthew Reddin currently, Dan Shafer, Erin Petersen and, briefly at the start, Lisa Townsel. I am enormously grateful for their hard work, skill and ideas.

As difficult as all this has been, I do not regret leaving the newspaper. The freedom to pursue my own agenda as a writer and critic has led to the best work of my life. TCD and I personally have won many Milwaukee Press Club awards in the last two years, including Best Critical Review of the Arts two years in a row and Best News and Feature website. We’ve been very good indeed, and I became a much better writer than I was at the paper. The internet, with its access to video and links, turned out to be my natural habitat as a writer – I can’t imagine going back to print. I’ve broadened my skill set to include editing, management and social media strategies. I’ve also become a very good mentor.

Of everything I’ve accomplished at TCD, I’m most proud of helping the smart, hard-working young interns and employees who have come through our shop develop their talent and find their voices as writers. Matthew Reddin, Dan Shafer, Danielle McClune, Sahan Jayasuriya, Christina Wright and Lacy Landre come immediately to mind, but I am proud of many more. In the last year, TCD has pretty much been me, age 63, and a bunch of 20-somethings. Being around them has been rejuvenating. When people my age complain about “these kids today,” I tell them to stuff it. The young people who’ve passed through TCD have shown a work ethic, creativity and maturity beyond anything I can recall from my own generation 40 years ago.

We could afford to pay just a few of our writers. Many more covered events for us out of love of writing and the arts. Thanks to all of you for your volunteer effort. I’m also grateful to John Shannon, a true patron of the arts, for daring to step in to take over a small, struggling media outlet and see it through some hard times. I do hope that his vision for TCD’s future not only proves sustainable, but also yields a profit.

Finally, I’d like to thank the Milwaukee arts community, the great people at our theaters, musical organizations, museums, galleries and dance companies. You gave TCD special access, you bought advertising from us, you understood and bore with us when our criticism was less than flattering. You knew that even in those cases, we loved you more than any other media, and you loved us back. We understood each other, as people and as institutions. Your passion was our passion.

I’m not sure what the future holds for me. It probably isn’t daily journalism, of which 31 years is enough and which in any case is in a state of shrinkage and confusion. But I will certainly be involved in the arts community in some capacity. I’m thinking about putting on lecture series and perhaps giving some pre-show/concert presentations for some of the local companies. I intend to delve more deeply into songwriting, singing and the guitar. I will continue to teach arts-related courses at UWM, in the Honors College and perhaps elsewhere. Aside from the arts, I’m developing an Efficient Writing Workshop to help businesses promote a culture of clear written communication. I might even dust off my ancient career as an advertising copywriter.

I’m leaving TCD, but not retiring. I’m moving on to see what comes next. Come along if you care to — just friend me on Facebook.

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43 Responses to “Milwaukee Scribe: Goodbye and Good Luck”

  1. Elaine Stalheim says:

    Today I feel lost!! I was looking forward to your review.They were always so informative helping me to better understnd .Best wishes to you in your retirement.You will find many things to challenge you I will miss you! Elaine Stalheim

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  2. BilliDawn Schoggen says:

    I’ve always looked first for the Tom Strini take on music and theater in Milwaukee. Your thoughtful analyses enriched my own experiences. Best wishes for your next ventures, Mr. Strini.

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  3. Tom Strini says:

    Dear Mark Bucher: Thank you so much for your kind remarks, my favorite of all the ones posted here. Still, I must decline your kind offer, as I prefer not to jump out of the frying pan and into the fire. — Strini

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  4. Jennie Ehrmann (57th) says:

    Thank you for 30+ years of reviews of the ballet, symphony and other arts groups. I always read your reviews before I went to the performance and then re-read them when I got home. Most of the time, we agreed. I might actually have to get on Facebook now to follow you. Glad for your sake that you are easing your workload, but we will miss your reviews and explanatory articles on all of Milwaukee’s performaing arts.

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  5. Mark Bucher says:

    Dear Tom:

    Wanna run a theatre company?

    hey, maybe you would like to volunteer? it’s about time the boulevard gets someone who is as smart as you and who cuts a far more dashing figure than i ever could….

    Your cogent critical voice will be missed, but if you have passed on your acumen to the incoming staff, they have the appropriate artistic ammo to continue the battle to get the word out about the arts in milwaukee (an industry which promotes as much or more economic stimulation as some losing sports franchises, but which receives 1/10th the respect and the attention)….

    Your scallywag friend who has never used artistic steroids to direct a play,

    mark bucher of the boulevard theatre

    http://www.boulevardtheatre.com

    and bravo and good luck and break legs to Matthew and all the rest of the incoming staff

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  6. Rick says:

    Your liberal slants are well gone from this place. Now I may engage again. Hopefully, the poison has not infected the remaining staff.

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  7. Best wishes, Tom, in your future endeavors and thank you for the decades of support and promotion of the metro-Milwaukee performing arts community. As I witnessed so recently at the Wilson Center’s Guitar Competition & Festival, your enthusiasm for the arts is unflagging and I definitely look forward to hearing about the next adventure!
    -Jon

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  8. Dan Strini says:

    Tom,
    Just look at all the comments! What a testament to your impact. Obviously you are respected and will be missed. I am proud of you and good luck with your next adventure.

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  9. Bill Barnewitz says:

    Tom,

    Best wishes for whatever you pursue next. Your enthusiasm for and dedication to the Milwaukee arts scene will not be easily replaced. Perhaps if you and Lee Ann are at large of a Friday night we can sit together and talk of good memories and big transitions. Cheers!

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  10. Mike Salick says:

    Thanks Tom for all your excellent work. Many times you helped open my eyes to better understand what I was hearing and seeing. We’ll look forward to your next adventure. Our best to you and Lee Ann. – Mike

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  11. Pegi Christiansen says:

    Thank you for this very open last story. All best wishes!

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  12. Jen Grey says:

    Reinvention is key to long life. Have at it!

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  13. Scott Emmons says:

    Tom, I wish you the best in your next “adventure!” Thanks for all that you’ve done, and, I’m sure will continue to do, for the arts in Milwaukee.

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  14. Vivian Rothschild says:

    Thank you Tom for your generosity of spirit, humor and deep insights. The MIAD community, collectively and personally, appreciates everything you’ve brought to your work, and to our lives.

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  15. Jessica Laub says:

    Thank you for your years of hard work in bringing Milwaukee’s fabulous performing arts groups the attention and recognition they deserve. Huzzah!

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  16. Judy Kuhn says:

    Tom, I’m sorry to see that you’re leaving Third Coast Daily; it is a grand, counter-cultural achievement and much valued by me and (obviously!) many others. You’ve taken the time to value and learn about the Milwaukee arts scene in a way that no one else has. I hope you’ll let us know what happens next and wish you all the best.

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  17. Nancy Herro says:

    Tom, we are all so grateful for all your years of support to the Milwaukee arts community. You made sure that the arts were given a proper high profile – -and helped to create an environment where the arts could thrive, even as the funds were drying up.

    Your poetic language will be missed. My favorite quote was when you said that the Milwaukee Choral Artists sounded like “a sonic aurora borealis.” Lovely…and true.

    Happy trails to you as you make your way to the next adventure!

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  18. Dearest Tom,

    Thank you so much for your years of writing for and championing Milwaukee dance and, particularly for me, Your Mother Dances. Your critical eye, encouragement, support, good “sportsmanship” and experienced acumen will be sorely missed. As Joelle’s comment echoes above, I empathize with your your experience, struggle in my own bones and grieve that while there is so much fulfillment in being in the arts in many capacities, it is also a damn hard, constant upstream swim. All my love to you and Lee Ann as you shift once again. You know the Joseph Campbell thing…”Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls.” Fellow bliss follower, I salute you!

    With much gratitude (and a wicked wink and a smile),
    Elizabeth

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  19. Joan Lounsbery says:

    Tom, long ago you set a standard for arts journalism in Milwaukee that has (almost) never been matched. I salute you and Third Coast from the West Coast. I’ve read most of what you’ve written and it has kept me in close touch with the Milwaukee arts scene. I hope you continue to bring your enormous knowledge base to the arts community. And enjoy those weekends!

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  20. Thanks for everything, Tom. Your support of my work over the years has been deeply appreciated. I honestly don’t think my trombone concerto for Megumi Kanda and the MSO in 2011 happens without your advice and guidance. Frankly, its hard to imagine the Milwaukee arts community without you. Cheers ….

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  21. Sharon Hansen says:

    Tom,

    Your enormously creative reviews and sage musings on Milwaukee’s Arts scene will be sorely missed. An enormous thank you from all of us in the Arts for all you have given us, when column inches dedicated to the Arts were few and far between. Indeed, “the times they are a’changin’.” As you say, you aren’t stopping the work – you are merely changing the direction. In all your new endeavors, may the roads rise to meet you, and may the winds always be at your back.

    Sincerely,
    Sharon A. Hansen
    Founder and Music Director Emerita
    The Milwaukee Choral Artists (1998-2013)

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  22. Christina says:

    I’ll miss your writings at TCD, plus your great care for the arts in Milwaukee, so I’m particularly glad that you said to friend you on Facebook so that I can follow alone in your future ventures! And great luck to you in the future – you deserve it!

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  23. Russ Evans says:

    I guess it’s too late for ‘say it isn’t so.’ I often wished that I could have seen your review before the performance; that would have made the event much more understandable to the rubes like me. I hope to hear more outside of TCD. Get MJS to pay you $1000 a review as a free lancer? It would serve them right, and you too.

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  24. Tom: Your passion and commitment to the arts community on a daily basis will be most sorely missed. I suspect that your impact is not going away, only transforming itself into its next phase!

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  25. Leslie Fedorchuk says:

    Tom – Your insights and observations were always something that I utilized to bounce my own thinking off of – and I will miss having that on a regular basis. Good for you for knowing when to move to the next adventure. See you soon!

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  26. Tom Strini says:

    Many thanks, everyone for the kind words. We worked hard these last four years, and it’s good to know the effort wasn’t wasted. — Tom

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  27. Simone Ferro says:

    Congratulations for this new phase of your career, Tom. May the days ahead bring you the same joy, inspiration and fulfillment. Thank you for being an anchor in this community.

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  28. Valerie Kraemer says:

    thou art not remiss to dismiss thyself for this belated kiss.

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  29. Joelle Worm says:

    Tom, thank you for your transparency in the challenges faced by the arts media outlets, your words parallel much of what artists go through (of which you are one yourself). Best of luck and I hope our paths continue to cross!
    Joelle

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  30. Jill Anna says:

    I hope this means that invitations to a guitar performance will be forthcoming. That would help me cope with the loss of your writing, which has been my lifeline.

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  31. Patricia Pellman says:

    Dear Tom,
    Good luck and best wishes!
    With love and affection.
    From your sister,
    Patti

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  32. vicki samolyk says:

    TCD has been my go-to source of arts information since its inception. Thanks Tom for sharing your knowledge, insight, poetry, and humor in your writing. Looking forward to the next chapter in your creative life!

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  33. Colin Cabot says:

    Although we first left Milwaukee in 1997, it wasn’t until 2009 that we regularly felt in touch with the Milwaukee arts scene. People who are proud of their friends and colleagues often sent us links to Tom’s reviews of their work. His memory is extremely long and accurate and his criticism never (well, almost nevah)strayed from the fair and justified. Thanks, and please stay in touch.

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  34. Jonathan Brodie says:

    Dear Tom,

    I have been fortunate to have read your work for the past 30 years. During that time, you have been the voice of intelligent and serious music (and art) criticism in this city. It is not easy to write about music and art in that way. To do that at such a high level, day in and day out, for more than three decades, is heroic. Who needs Odysseus or Babe Ruth when Tom Strini has been among us?

    With gratitude and appreciation,

    Jonathan Brodie

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  35. Jenni says:

    Dear Tom: Congratulations! I was also one of those TCD interns who benefited from your mentorship. Just wanted to say thank you. Take care and enjoy your next step :)

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  36. Victor DeLorenzo says:

    Thank-you Tom for so many great collections of words over the past 3 decades! …Your insights and spirit will live on…Happy Future to You and much success with whatever comes next…Write On!!!

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  37. Wendy Richman says:

    Best wishes, Tom. Thank you for fueling my interests in musicology, music journalism, and music itself for as long as I can remember.

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  38. It is certainly a day of life passages. Thank you for all you have given your readers over these decades, Tom. It’s been a learning experience and a joy for us. Let’s celebrate your new life with dinner at your house — you cook!
    Bravo, maestro. A helluva performance.

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  39. Stefanie Jacob says:

    Tom, I very much look forward to seeing, hearing and reading you in whatever capacity you explore next. You have been extraordinarily generous to Milwaukee’s arts community with your time, your enthusiasm, and your prose. Bravo to you–your insightful (and incisive) writing at Third Coast will truly be missed.

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  40. Tom’s movin’ on–congratulations! I hear you’re a great cook too….
    Thanks for always showing up and cheers to the next adventure!

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  41. Lee Ann Garrison says:

    I am looking forward to weekends with my husband! For 31 years of our 36-year marriage, Tom has worked most Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, and many Sundays. I also look forward to the next great work.

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  42. Melissa says:

    You will be missed. I wish you the best and most fulfilling of future projects.
    most sincerely and thankfully,
    Melissa

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  43. John Shannon says:

    First, as a long time audience member, I thank Tom for his insightful, timely reviews. As someone aligned with several arts groups, I thank Tom for his interest and concern for Milwaukee’s arts organizations and disciples.
    Second, he’s been a great citizen of his profession, earning reader loyalty and professional awards. He’s concerned about good writing, which is evident in his well-crafted, knowledgeable reviews. Through his example, he’s been a model for another generation or two of reporters and writers. He’s helped them with their stories, teaching them “the Craft”.
    Third, he has an enormous number of things he wants to do – performance, composition, teaching, culinary, etc. – in addition to his always welcome work with local arts groups and spending more time with his family. These are all good and great things.
    As he says, he’s not retiring. Bravo, Bravo!

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