Another major reviewing voice at the Oregonian is out, and this narrative seems shockingly familiar: According to freelance restaurant critic Michael C. Zusman, who had been contributing reviews to the O for the past five years, he "received a terse e-mail from [A&E editor] DeAnn Welker [yesterday] afternoon advising that I would no longer be freelancing at The Oregonian. After five-plus years, it was an unclassy way to deliver the news."
In an equally terse e-mail sent to Eater, Portland Food & Drink, and WWeek, Zusman goes out all-Roger-Porter-style, following in former food critic Porter's footsteps by voicing his displeasure toward the Oregonian's food coverage. (Porter was famously let go in August of last year.) "A few years ago, we had a super team of restaurant writers/reviewers at the Oregonian with Roger Porter, Christina Melander, Karen [Brooks] and me anchoring the coverage," Zusman writes. "Now all of us are gone. I'll leave it to others to judge how the changing of the guard has affected the quality of the Oregonian's restaurant coverage. Personally, I am confident I can now get as much credible information from other sources as I can from the daily."
Zusman also, per Porter style, throws around some serious accusations:
I can't ascribe a definite cause-and-effect relationship, but the timing may well relate to a recent incident during which DeAnn told me that if I did not pump up an ambivalent review I had submitted, she was going to kill the review. I told her that would be dishonest and a disservice to readers, and could not do so. She killed the review. That was about two weeks ago.
In a statement sent to Eater, Welker responds to Zusman's allegations, noting that the recent addition of full-time restaurant reporter Michael Russell, not a spat over a recent submission, contributed to the termination of Zusman's services:
"The Oregonian's reasons for no longer needing Michael Zusman's freelance services have nothing to do with a recent review that we chose not to publish.
Earlier this year, The Oregonian hired a full-time restaurant reporter and critic, Michael Russell. With him fully on board — in addition to staff contributions from Grant Butler and David Sarasohn, the senior restaurant critic in the Portland area — we no longer have much need for freelance reviews."
Zusman did not comment on future plans, but did sign off his note with: "To all of you, I hope you will continually strive to provide Portlanders the quality restaurant coverage we want and deserve."
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