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Was fundraiser really a bailout?

Your reaction to today’s blog entry will be influenced largely by your definition of the word “bailout.”

Do you see a bailout as people lending some support during a challenging time? Or does it imply something more negative – like a last-ditch cash donation to a person or group on the verge of bankruptcy?

Why do I ask? Allow me to explain.

On Monday, CBC ran a story on its web site about the Shakespeare by the Sea festival, and it recent successful fundraising effort. The troupe asked its friends to donate $20 toward the festival’s 20th season – the $20 for 20 campaign – and reached its fundraising goal of $5,000.

That’s all well and good. What raised the ire of at least one reader was the headline above the story, which reads:

Bailout keeps Bard on board for another summer

You can read the full story here:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/story/2012/07/09/nl-shakespeare-by-the-sea-709.html

Brian Duggan posted the following comment under that story, then pasted the same text at Shakespeare by the Sea’s Facebook page. Here is what Duggan, a former manager with the troupe, had to say:

“Congratulations CBC on some lovely alliteration. You certainly know how to use your Bs to melodic effect. SHAME on you for calling a successful fundraising campaign a “Bailout”. The $20 for 20 campaign is a fundraising campaign like any one of hundreds of other fundraising campaigns carried out by thousands of other not-for-profit artistic companies small and large around the world.

Your casual and uninformed use of the word Bailout simply to complete the melody of the headline could have disastrous effects on the capacity of the organization to raise money in the future through non public methods like this campaign. Donors do not like to support organizations that seem badly run or on the verge of collapse. The word Bailout implies this. Having produced SBTS for a season and having spent 10 years as a professional fund development officer for theatre companies, symphony orchestras, and yes even animal shelters I can tell you SBTS is well run by a group of loving dedicated people who freely give their time and talent year after year to make these performances a reality.

Your lovely alliteration endangers and disrespects. Keep up the good work Jenn and co. …”

He is referring in the last sentence to Jennifer Deon, artistic director of the Shakespeare by the Sea festival, who I contacted for a comment. 

“In the sense that a bailout is a rescue from financial distress, then, yes, the headline could be seen as accurate,” Deon said. “While the $20 FOR 20 campaign was designed not as a bailout, but rather as a campaign of celebration of our 20 seasons, it is true that our funding situation this year was in distress. Unfortunately it is also true that in any given season we can be on the verge of shutting ‘er down/packing ‘er in.  Small companies like ours live and die on the turn of a coin – or grant, as the case may be. At the end of the day, I am ultimately just grateful for the coverage because it will hopefully lead to more ‘bums on seats’, as they say.”

While she won’t describe the campaign as a “bailout,” Deon seems to recognize how others could see it that way.

I’m on the fence on this one. At first, I agreed with Duggan. Around here, “bailout” is commonly used to describe a business or organization as a basket case, in dire need of a cash injection from government (and could often imply a poorly managed operation). It’s a none-too-subtle inference that a company is not viable. But if Shakespeare by the Sea is a basket case, then so are dozens of other not-for-profits who struggle to make ends meet.

And the word might not have leaped to the headline writer’s mind, if not for the opportunity to indulge in a bit of alliteration.

Nowhere in the troupe’s own promotional materials or media coverage leading up to that story did I see any indication that Shakespeare by the Sea was in serious financial straits. However, in the story linked above, there is this statement:

Director Nicole Rousseau said there were times it looked like the summer season wasn’t going to happen, because the group was short of cash.

“It certainly was difficult at times to see a way that we were going to be able to get all the funding together,” Rousseau said.

So you can see how one could take that idea and run with it. And I confess, if I was working the desk that day, I might have done the same thing. When in writing mode, journalists are aware that their copy has to be readable and, where possible, entertaining. Same applies to headlines. 

Finally, there are the various definitions of bailout. One definition I found online describes bailout as “a situation in which a business, individual or government offers money to a failing business in order to prevent the consequences that arise from a business's downfall.”

But that’s one of many, and they run the gamut. The Encarta dictionary bundled within Microsoft Word has just one definition: “an intervention by a person or company to help another person or company out of financial difficulties.”

Based on that definition, I would think the headline writer was not out of bounds at all.

What do you think?

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  • David Whalen
    July 13, 2012 - 12:23

    On the subject of creative headline writing at CBC, this reminds me of a recent story on its website about the Hebron dispute between the government and ExxonMobil. On June 21, the site ran a story with the headline "NL fires shots in new clash with ExxonMobil." The words "shots fired", accompanied by a generic "breaking news" illustration, created the fleeting impression that a violent crime had occurred. Obviously, I quickly gathered that this was a run-of-the-mill (although certainly newsworthy) instance of bickering between government and the outside entity du jour. I can appreciate the need to write compelling headlines, but surely we can agree it's not in the best taste to liken Kathy Dunderdale and Jerome Kennedy holding a press conference to "firing shots". With Canada no longer in the throes of combat, should we expect the return of misplaced media military metaphors?

  • L. G. Bloomquist
    July 11, 2012 - 21:49

    The word "Bailout" is the word of the year... when applied to European countries and banks. It was the word of previous years applied to American banks and car companies. It is not the right word for this situation. Let's see, Geoff: how much love does Angela Merkel feel for Greece, for Spain? Can you feel Obama's love for Goldman or Chevrolet? No, that is pure economic self-interest. In contrast, the people who contributed to the SBTS fund raising, including me, did so out of love for these outstanding summer productions, and the people who put them on. Do you realize what a St. John's summer highlight they are? Perhaps a better headline would have been: Midsummer Dream for Shakespeare Festival.

  • Geoff Meeker
    Geoff Meeker
    July 11, 2012 - 14:45

    Yes, Brian, my point of view on this one did evolve. My first reaction was that "bailout" was too strong a word. However, careful review of what Nicole Rousseau said, combined with Jenn Dion's comment, did soften me. A thorough search of the various definitions of bailout softened me more. I apologize for not advising you of that. However, does that change your point of view? I would think not. Can a good argument be made for both sides of this argument? Yes, and you're making some darn good ones. And I'm not sure there is a right or wrong answer to this one.

  • Brian Duggan
    July 11, 2012 - 14:13

    Geoff, you did not tell me you were going to change the point of view of your article. When you contacted me you indicated you were angered by the use of that perjorative word. You should have informed me you were going to change your mind in the final piece. Nonetheless, the common usage of the word indicates mismanagement. ALL community theatre, let me reiterate, ALL community theatre faces funding difficulties which could mean any season could be their last. Does this indicate mismanagement? No, it indicates higher costs than can be recouped by ticket prices. This is a situation every performing arts organization (except the Boston Pops Orchestra which is fully endowed) faces. By your definition mismanaged arts organizations that need a "bailout" include: Neptune Theatre, the National Arts Centre, the NSO, the TSO, the Canadian Opera Company, the NY Metropolitan Opera, the San Francisco Opera, the Arts Club Theatre...... Brian Duggan