May 15, 2006
Discrimination Theatreby Douglas McLennan
I’m interested (though hardly surprised) that much of this discussion has been a blogger-versus-print debate. But if we leave it at that level, I think we’re missing the point.
There’s nothing magical about blogs. There’s not really anything radically new about blogging. A blog is a cheap, easy publishing platform that opens up the ability to publish to almost anyone. But there are as many kinds of blogs out there as there are bloggers. Technorati reports that 17,000 new blogs are created every day.
Blogs are unreliable? Well, libraries are unreliable too if you don’t know how to use them. God knows the traditional press is unreliable if you’re not discriminating. If you’re indiscriminate about watching TV your brain can turn to mush. But TV can also be a window on the world. It’s all about choices and your sophistication in making them. So debating blogs versus traditional print is not very useful.
Ironically – I think – this issue of making discriminating choices about blogs relates directly to the traditional role of the critic. Critics make choices, weeding out the quality from the mass and providing context. So it’s an odd thing for a critic to be making an undifferentiated argument about the value (or lack of value) of blogs. Blogs are a technology platform, not a state of being.
I think there has been confusion for some time about the role of a critic. Is it primarily to pass judgment up or down, be a Consumer Report? Or is it to deal in context and ideas, using culture as raw material? The trend at many newspapers seems to be the former. But technology is becoming more efficient in that role – the wisdom of the many (whether it’s aggregated critical opinion at RottenTomatoes.com or the reader value ranking systems of sites like Digg or NewsVine) seems to interest people more than the up-or-down judgments of most individual critics. And why not?
Aren’t critics supposed to help us discover culture we might like? Well, again technology is getting more efficient at that too – Pandora uses the Music Genome Project to feed you streams of music you probably will like. Register your preferences at any number of websites and you’ll be fed a diet of whatever you say you’re looking for. It’s amazingly sophisticated. Want to stumble over something new? There’s Pitchfork and Podbop and… Looking for recommendations on the local scene? Flavorpill is happy to oblige, and there are any number of tell-a-friend sites that are pretty reliable.
The point is, many of the functions that have traditionally been the domain of the critic are now being done in other, more efficient ways. Whether or not you-the-consumer still want to have a relationship with an actual critic person depends more and more on the specific person. With the rising glut of culture that now engulfs us, there is more need than ever for critics/curators to help us wade through it all. But what is the essential thing that an arts journalist needs to bring to the table? How does an arts journalist accumulate the critical capital to make an impact?
Quote the artistby
While I have on occasion commissioned pieces written by artists for my newspaper, it is pretty rare. For one thing, artists are busy being artists and I haven't found that many who are interested in writing for publication. It's great when we can get their voices into print, but keep in mind that we do that many times a week when our reporters and critics interview artists, directors, curators, actors, musicians and composerrs for stories about upcoming shows, plays, exhibits and concerts. Those stories get artists' voices into the paper. Reported stories like those in the arts are relatively rare in blog-o-land, where one is more likely to encounter opinion without reporting.
Posted by at 11:17 PM
A podium in the pressby
Following up on Terry's last posting, I would be curious to know to what extent arts editors these days actually do "encourage artists to write for their publications as much as possible." That's a dandy idea. I don't see that happening in New York.
It used to be that when people like Harold Clurman and George Gershwin had something important to say, their most conspicuous and useful podium -- a spur to constructive public dialogue -- was the Times' Arts and Leisure section. (Gershwin, eg, wrote a long and now-famous piece defending "Porgy and Bess" vs. various criticisms in the press.) You don't see that any more. And I would go so far as to speculate that the people who edit Arts and Leisure aren't aware that this was once completely uncontroversial.
Missing in actionby About Last Night
I, too, have serious problems with Times-style “objectivity.” A critic who holds himself at arm's length from the artistic community whose activities he covers is a eunuch in the harem.
For the same reason, I also believe in the value of practitioner criticism, though it should be taken with a grain or two (or three) of salt, since it often says as much or more about the practitioner in question as it does the object of his criticism. Still, it’s almost always worth hearing, just as it’s valuable, maybe even essential, for critics of the performing arts to have had some kind of hands-on professional experience, whether on or off stage, in at least one art form. Such experience, as I’ve written elsewhere, helps to give the working critic a proper respect for what Wilfrid Sheed calls "the simple miracle of getting the curtain up every night." It's hard to sing Tatyana in Yevgeny Onegin, or to dance in Concerto Barocco. It's scary to go out in front of a thousand people in a dumb-looking costume and put your heart and soul on the line. Unless a critic has some personal experience of what that feels like—of the problems, both psychological and practical, that stand in the way of getting the curtain up—he may err on the side of an unrealistic perfectionism, and his reviews will be sterile and uncomprehending as a result.
All the more reason (you saw this coming, didn’t you?) why artists should start their own blogs. Here’s a good one. And all the more reason, too, for arts editors to encourage artists to write for their publications as often as possible.
Terms of Engagementby
Larry, what you and Chris Lavin espouse, honoring the “communal nature of cultural experience” and an “arc and depth and color” of cultural coverage, resonates with what I have been hollering about. I favor a more radical and comprehensive move along the same lines. I believe every aspect of the template that holds criticism at arm’s length should be thrown out. Let’s erase the line between critics and practitioners. This is also what Enrique is talking about, if I read him right.
One of the most irksome aspects of critical disengagement, in all its forms, is that this “objectivity” business is something new and questionable, not something old and venerable. In fact, its history is recent and murky. It’s fallen into place arbitrarily and circumstantially. In my blog piece (“Engaging with the Arts”), I suggest that its strict implementation at the Times, when I was a critic there, was partly a function of a senior critic’s particular limitations.
Look at Brustein, Tynan, Shaw, Greenberg, Clurman, Thomson, Schumann, Berlioz. They were part of the arts community. They were engaged. They didn’t limit themselves to pro forma “reviews.” They wrote with style. They mattered.
Posted by at 7:48 PM
jumper from the cornerby
Having just read Chris Lavin's brilliant speech "Why Arts Coverage Should Be More Like Sports," I flashed back to a recent piece I did for WSJ, on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and his interest making a documentary linking basketball to jazz. Now, this piece was an excuse to express my own twin passions for these subjects, and to share (validate?) the aesthetic connections I see (improvisation blended into form; the primacy of changes in rhythm and tempo... but I digress). What Abdul-Jabbar wished to do was to share a moment in Renaissance Harlem when basketball and jazz were literally linked — performed on the same floor, on the same night — as part of a larger culture. What's more, through that long lens, he hoped to bridge today's hiphop-inflected, big-money game with its more modest jazz-related predecessor. (It's worth noting that jazz and hiphop cultures, which musicians and DJs readily connect, rarely meet within music media — yet, again, I digress).
Kareem sought to create context through storytelling.
Lavin's focus on storytelling, and on an arc and depth and color to coverage that reaches around and beyond simply reviews, hits home for me. Arts coverage needs to be much more than a series of reports on events and products, punctuated by profiles of personalities deemed important by virtue of the success of their live events and products (or trend stories that find similarities between recent events and products). Online media and the rise of the computer as a personal media center may stifle the outgoing and communal nature of cultural experience (arguable, but that's how I feel) and further segment and isolate cultural consumption. Yet online media and the blogosphere could, perhaps paradoxically, reconnect the dots that place each art form within a larger and more engaging picture (at the very least, guys like Sasha Frere-Jones and Alex Ross link music, life, and visual images in interesting ways online). Or — consider this — newspaper and magazine editors, once they realize how much their work is being displaced in terms of straight and timely reviews, might end up moved to cover arts in a deeper, more varied and investigative manner.
In defense of criticsby
In Chris Lavin's Poynter piece (and again in the post below), Lavin engages in whumping broadsides against critics and criticdom without naming names or citing examples. That makes it a little tough to respond, but I'll try. In his Poynter essay he wrote:
"Reviews, almost by their definition, are narrowly focused -- they speak to the theater community and to people who attended the show or are considering attending a show. I don't believe they attract the eyes of the non-theater-going community nor do I think they are generally written in a way that makes the art form more accessible to a broad newspaper or television audience."
That's a problem with the reviewer, not with the concept of reviewing a show. The best arts criticism presents art within the context in which the art was made -- or the context in which it is seen today. It takes on questions such as: Why does this art matter (or not matter) now? How and why is, say, Goya relevant today? Or not? (The critical crue at the LA Times is the best example of this. I couldn't give two snits about classical music, but I love reading Mark Swed.)
And is Lavin actually saying that blogs (which he seems to dismiss as "the unwashed") are akin to word-of-mouth banter, to gossiping? If the only blogs he reads are Perez Hilton-style, sure. But if he's reading Ed Winkleman or Terry Teachout or Barry Hoggard or James Wagner or PORT...
And does Lavin really think that blogs are "obscuring" the work of "professionals?" Can he give some examples of that? It seems a rather remarkable -- even unlikely -- charge.
Everyone is a critic.by
One of the benefits of the internet may be its ability to finally move arts criticism into its properly weighted role in arts journalism. That the thousands of blogged opinions from the washed and the unwashed may now be obscuring the work of professional critics, clearly should focus the arts journalist on doing more of the probative, thematic and reportorial work that characterizes the best arts journalism today. Criticism has a fine and long tradition. It should continue -- in its place. But clinging endlessly to that traditional, limited model in the central position it has held, will continue arts journalism sliding toward obscurity. If word of mouth, fueled by the internet, is essentially going to replace the power of the all-knowing and highly trained critic to make or break a show, I'd look for a new way of communicating the essential quality and importance of the arts today. Arts journalism should be more than criticism, particularly in populist publications like newspapers and magazines. We should be doing more reporting. More innovative photography. More analyses of trends and finances. Perhaps even more probative work on the questionable decisions in schools across America to value and fund sports more liberally than music and theater. The breadth of work to be done is wider than the focus taken on by the combined forces of all the arts journalists in America. Too much of that focus remains on criticism alone.
Some Comments By Readers...by Douglas McLennan
You can find complete comments here.
I would disagree that blogs will have no ability to upset journals or other traditional media - we just can't see it yet. In academic circles, it used to be that web materials of any variety were unacceptable for use, being too "unreliable" to serve as reputable resources. But that has changed, and with time, so will blogging. - Claire Blaustein
Blogs often give news, and like newspapers, are discarded from day to day. Yes, they are way ahead of scholarly publications, but their content is not important enough to be lasting. Published articles, on the other hand, will be used by the following generations in a very different way than blogs will be used. I don't think that anything will be made obsolete by blogs. Rather, blogs are filling a void. But they don't threaten the stability of any other form of dialogue. - Jason
Don't get stuck here on the issue of blogging , please, fellow arts journalists. Some of the bigger issues are intellectual property rights, outlets for freelancers, pay scales keeping up with the rest of the economy, the failure of the leadership organizations behind the National Critics Conference to follow up their mandate, the ignorance of the general arts public about the value of critics, the dismissal by the overall culture of the importance of critical thinking. I hope the Philadelphia convention will shed some light on how to move forward, together, dealing with these problems. - Howard Mandel
As Offical Journalists, our name, our sign, our scat remains to claim us: we, the Actual Person are responsible for our words and what they represent. Yes, much art journalism is unreadable gobblygook. Insider, obtuse crap that comes across as more masturbatory than celebratory. Alas, much that makes blogland applies to the latter, as well. - Karen Michel
Writing in any medium, I believe fervently, creates its own legitimacy. Or not. I started my own blog as an experiment: could I, by offering the kind of discussion that is not available in our daily papers, create a legitimacy without the huge economic machine of the print media to back me up? The answer, in a small way, is yes, of course it's possible. I work more or less as any other critic, as part of the press; I get the press releases and tickets and so on. The only difference is that I don't get paid. - Alison Croggon
For the moment, what the best cultural bloggers provide is extended attention to events and trends for which there is little space in the print media today... Blogs also offer, through the links and community possible through the Internet, a larger, self-correcting community that only 20 years would have been unthinkable... Just because the Web sites of newspapers and magazines can boast an astronomically greater circulation than any individual blogger (or, for that matter, group of bloggers) does not mean this is where the best can be found. - George Hunka
Writing Well For Pay?by
Certainly, blogs have intensified -- and, in some instances, perhaps, deepened -- our national conversation about the arts. They've been most helpful, to be sure, in disciplines like the visual arts and classical music that struggled for coverage in mainstream media outlets. And in well-covered areas like popular music, where I do most of my writing, they've helped break down the tyranny of sales as a virtually exclusive measure of which artists should be covered. All of that is to the good.
I'm not nearly so high-minded as to leave things there, however. I raise two issues -- one lofty and one more, shall we say, pragmatic. The first is that I rarely hear anyone talk about the quality of writing in blogs. People seem to read less carefully online, and, because of that, writers tend to write less carefully for them. We finally are writers, after all? Does this make a difference to anyone?
The other matter is, ahem, getting paid for doing this work. I did plenty of writing for free when I was starting out, and occasionally still do for academic journalis and such. But as so many newspapers and magazines implode, how is anyone supposed to make a living doing this? I read in the NY Times this morning that enrollments in journalism school are increasing, and I teach a writing seminar every fall at Penn filled with a dozen or so aspiring arts journalists. These people care deeply about the arts, but they also would like to make a decent living writing about them. I suppose that many of those energetically blogging kids being extolled in the entries here would like to do that as well. What is the prospect of that? For them? For ourselves in the future? Do we care?
I don't need to see a business model -- though, if anyone has one, bring it on. But I am curious to hear anyone's speculations about this.
Let us entertain youby
"There will be a huge swarm of bloggers, but that won’t prevent the – watch out, another big word supposedly verboten in cyberspace is coming – discourse from concentrating around a limited number of voices. Those writers will be given better toys, broader distribution, and oh, money, so they’ll be able to keep going."
So the big question is, who will be the people on the top of the pile up?
My whole yarn about the old man and the see is this: Don't look back. Turning into a pillar of salt is the least of your worries.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, there's historical frameworks to be considered and threats of endless repetitions hanging over our heads, but that's not what I'm talking about.
I'm talking about pining for days of fewer distractions and longer word counts and the comfort of a weathered leather club chair in a private office after a three-martini lunch.
Gone, gone, gone.
And thank God.
The artists have finally gotten their revenge on us.
The critics now have to perform.
We have judged artists on their ability to excite, to innovate, to surprise, to engage, to inform.
Now the world is demanding that of us, too.
It might have been enough during a certain period for Christopher Isherwood to declare, "I am a camera."
Today's critic has to declare: "I am a camera, I am a videographer, I am an podcaster, I am a feature writer, I am a critic, I am a marketer, I am a blogger, I am an editor, I am..."
I am the person who can engage the people using whatever tools are available. I am curious enough to examine the way new technologies can help tell stories. I am flexible enough to learn these technologies. I am brazen enough to shamelessly promote my point of view. I am willing to utilize the kinds of storytelling techniques that are pointed out as verboten in "The Elements of Style."
Make no mistake, the reviewers on Amazon.com won't take our jobs. Nor will it be the Depeche Mode obsessive.
But that kid who read your book, learned something from it and created a cult around her brand of critique using a listserv, blog and weekly podcast will.
You might be ok resting on your laurels and teaching at university and ignoring all these electro charges crackling through the air. You might be moderately relevant as a footnote. Your obituary is certainly secure. But your days of making an on-going contribution to the PUBLIC discourse are numbered.
Unless you do something about it.
Twin tracksby About Last Night
Two things are happening simultaneously in online arts journalism:
(1) A few artbloggers (including Tyler Green and Maud Newton, who are part of this panel, and George Hunka of Superfluities, who is contributing to the comments) have started to be noticed and published by old-media editors.
(2) Most artbloggers remain pure amateurs, writing for love rather than money.
Both kinds of artblogging are interesting and important. In the long run, though, the second kind may prove more significant.
Until very recently, traditional media and the professional writers who publish there were in a monopoly position when it came to the dissemination of critical views. Now they're not. If I read him correctly, Andras thinks the monopoly will eventually reassert itself, albeit in a different form (Meet the new boss/Same as the old boss). I’m not so sure.
One of the things the blogosphere is teaching us is that the world is full of non-professional writers who have compelling things to say, but who in the past lacked the means (or desire) to say them loudly and frequently enough to be heard by a mass audience. Blogs—along with the other new information technologies to which Doug alluded at the start of this discussion, and about which we haven’t yet said much—have changed that.
Larry has it right: “There's a fascinating and crucial tension between traditional and electronic media right now. Can we affect how it plays out?” I think so—but only if old-media editors and publishers start to pay closer and more receptive attention to the culture-changing potential of the new media.
Smoke and mirrors and the futureby
I sympathise with Mr. Green's frustrations, but I don't think what Andras said is that far from the central predictioon in his own blogosophere triumphalism. All Andras seemed to be saying, to me, was that, as with any critical discussion, a winnowing will occur in the blogosphere. Wit, intelligence, breadth of knowledge, depth of judgment -- all of these remain as values in any discussion of the arts, and as an internet reader -- as any reader would -- I seek them out and learn to ignore all that cloud of chaff. This will inevitably happen there and it will happen in conjunction with print critics.
What I find so irritating and irrelevant from bloggers is the notion that "technology (and tomorrow) belong to me, and therefore I get to declare who will or will not become extinct." Mr. Green ignores two things: One, in a discussion of the arts, in the arts themselves, small is sometimes highly valuable. Simply because a particular artist or critic does not have a huge, worldwide audience, that doesn't mean he is irrelevant and will soon be worthless. For those of us in the books world, the persistence of literary journals and the short story are perfect examples: They wield an influence far larger than their publication numbers indicate. This would seem obvious to bloggers, who generally position themselves as the doughty, lone rebels against the lumbering star-cruiser fleet. But in dismission outright arts journals and other outlets as future roadkill, Mr. Green seems guilty of the very sin with which he charges established print media.
Second, local, not national, is sometimes highly valuable. For all the crowing of bloggers, I've yet to see one offer what a decent daily newspaper's arts pages -- and ONLY a decent daily newspaper's arts pages -- do. One-stop access to a wide variety of guidance to local arts. There are theater blogs, visual arts blogs, and so forth. But to be able to staff a full-range of local guidance generally requires, well, a local staff. This may well happen in the future (or as is the case, newspapers may simply transfer themselves to the web in some altered form, although one hopes with more savvy than they've been demonstrating).
And just to disagree with Andras for a moment: I don't think newspapers are so obviously headed for extinction just yet. Their current troubles have more to do with the departure of advertisers pursuing the same, narrow demographic and the shortsighted greed of owners looking to maintain their 30 percent profit margins by gutting staff than it has to do with any wholesale loss of value.
Posted by at 8:02 AM
Three Cheers Tylerby Andras Szanto
We’re off to the races. Thank you, Tyler, for responding so quickly to my post. It makes our exchange a perfect demonstration of why online discussions are superior to newspapers or magazines. Were this a newspaper, you would be reading this (in the unlikely case such a back-and-forth was allowed in a daily) a week from now, and I would probably have the final word. Were this a magazine, you would have to wait a month or two for my answer, and another two months for your next answer, by which time everything we originally said would be stale, forgotten, or irrelevant. Nothing more needs to be said about why critical dialogue, or any kind of dialogue, thrives so happily online.
Being labeled a fuzzy-duddy was a self-inflicted danger of my post. Anyway, my point isn’t who wins: of course paper media are on the way out and online journalists/bloviators (depending on skill or temperament) are on the way up. My point is that this is a fleeting democratic moment for the blogsphere, and it’s to be savored by those of us lucky enough to be around and curious right now.
Tyler is a perfect example of how things are likely to go. Having emerged from the fertile but obscure soup of the blogsphere, you now enjoy the imprimatur of prestigious media outlets. The same will happen to a relatively limited number of bright and ambitious journalists. It’s already happening. There will be a huge swarm of bloggers, but that won’t prevent the – watch out, another big word supposedly verboten in cyberspace is coming – discourse from concentrating around a limited number of voices. Those writers will be given better toys, broader distribution, and oh, money, so they’ll be able to keep going. It is they, not the blogsphere as such, who will win the race to capture the public’s attention and to have a say in which art is good, bad, or indifferent.
Will they be in newspapers? They will go where they can reach an audience, and they will promote themselves in media old and new. Will they refuse a book contract or a column in the New York Times? I doubt it.
A former chairman of IBM once said to a gathering of university professors, “I have good news and bad news. The good news is that in the future, professors will make millions. The bad news is there will only be a dozen of them.” So the good news is that in the future there will be millions of art critics (a Google blog search for “art criticism” at around 9 am this morning pulled up 44,569, and the first one is called “Everyone’s a critic”). The bad news is that only a handful will have impact and earning potential. There will be some –Tyler no doubt among them – who will likely do much better financially than any current critic does (having surveyed their salaries, I know how paltry they are). But there will only be a select few who can build their blogging credentials into a full-blown omnimedia brand.
The relevant question, in any case, is not whether paper journalists or the blogerati will win. The question is what kind of journalism will they practice? The on-point question – about “objectivity,” tone, and standards – is the one being raised by Enrique Fernandez. I don’t care who wins, but I do care about how they will change arts writing.
Good writing is good writing and fresh perspectives are, well, fresh. We who value both must welcome their arrival through blogs and electronic media, go online to find them, and perhaps join in. It's also important that we understand the blogosphere as more than just a constellation of voices. These are new economies in formation. The ways in which these economies function (through informal association of links, and more formal guidelines of internet-company business plans) will shape much of cultural criticism in the end, and is already affecting the ways in which traditional media operate).
I must echo Enrique Fernandez's comment about democracy being good - for government. And I'll amplify a bit by adding that democratic societies need healthy bodies of arts and arts criticism that need not be and perhaps should not be, in themselves, all that democratic. If popularity is the currency that ultimately drives these new markets (unmediated by the sense of mission that layers of editors traditionally impose), where will that lead criticism? And if a good deal of criticism ends up transferred to sites that directly or indirectly market artistic products (as is happening quite a bit in my field, music), how will this be distinguishable from promotion? An odd thing is happening with regard to music in relation to the web: The critical voice is, in some cases, being supplanted by the very art it comments upon (why talk about it when we can simply download it?)
Bloggers have shaken and loosened things up in invigorating ways, first and foremost by creating a challenge to established sources and expected formats (does every concert, for instance, require coverage? And in the same form each time?) But there may be good reason to question the need-for-speed ethic that now diminishes the shelf life of critical commentary about the arts. It is mistake for newspapers and magazines to attempt to ape the appeal and function of electronic media: Instead, they should move further away to distinguish their product and preserve the values that made them significant in the first place.
There's a fascinating and crucial tension between traditional and electronic media right now. Can we affect how it plays out?
Posted by at 6:48 AM
Andras and smokeby
To some degree, the very scale and openness of postmodern culture have mandated these new filters and hierarchies. And so it will go with the blogsphere. When the smoke clears, we will be back to listening and trusting a finite number of voices. We will depend on them, and we won’t have time for many more.
Perhaps Andras fails to grasp the blogosphere. First: People read blogs because we don't use the word 'postmodern.' (OK, that's only one reason.) Also: It sounds like Andras thinks that the blogosphere is a third-rate, pet-rockish phenomenon that will pass and the Assertive Voices will re-assert themselves. Hooey.
The blogosphere is survival of the fittest, HTML-style. The good bloggers get read, others get much less-read. Individual authority must be earned -- bloggers don't have a newspaper's good name to supply them with clout or with a platform. Instead we earn it ourselves. Readers seem to respond to that: Blog readership numbers are growing, not shrinking.
But for the sake of Andras' argument, let's say that there is 'room' for 10 prominent voices on the visual arts. Right now 2-3 of those voices are bloggers. Within two years I bet bloggers are double that many. There are plenty of reasons for this: With the exception of the LAT, NYT and a few other outlets, most newspapers don't have full-time art critics anymore. Bloggers are filling that void. There are also more smart people out there who like to think out-loud about art than there are jobs at newspapers and magazines. Many of them are worth reading regularly. Some of them are gallerists, others are management consultants. There are more good new art blogs coming online every week. Bloggers are here to stay. (See Terry's post, below this one.)
If there is smoke, and if it clears, it's not bloggers who will be losing readership. In the visual arts, there are only 2-4 newspapers with strong national, critical voices. The WSJ doesn't have an art critic. Neither does NPR. The Chicago Tribune, Dallas Morning News, and other super-regional papers have art writers who barely leave their home turf. As the art world has shaken off regionalism for internationalism, (like commerce, science, etc.), those papers haven't adapted.
The voices that will be forgotten in the visual arts dialogue are, in order: art magazines and the academics who write for them, regional art writers (add: who don't keep up on art world changes) and writers who fail to build their own audiences. Bloggers will be -- and already are -- the winners of increased readership.
Insert head (A) in sand (B)by About Last Night
Joseph Horowitz, Enrique Fernandez, and Caryn Brooks all say that criticism needs to start breaking its own rules in order to become more effective. Maud Newton says it doesn’t matter where good criticism is published, so long as it is good. I agree on all counts—but it strikes me that new media, precisely because of their uninstitutionalized newness, are more likely to encourage the kind of rule-breaking writing we need if criticism is to flourish.
I wouldn’t say such a thing if I didn’t know it was happening. Unlike Anthony DeCurtis, who “rarely read[s] blogs on the arts,” I read them every day, and I know there’s far more to artblogging than indiscriminate amateur passion. Of course there’s plenty of that, and I’d even venture to agree with DeCurtis that no more than ten percent of artblogs (if that) are “worthwhile stuff.” But that still adds up to a huge amount of good writing, and my guess is that much, perhaps most of it is being done by people under the age of forty who, like most people under the age of forty, are increasingly alienated from the print media, to the extent that they think about them at all. We overlook their work—and their vitality—at our peril.
Too much of what old-media people write about the new media is foolishly contemptuous. I offer as Exhibit A the following remark:
Blogs will be a continuing part of content output, but only a relative few will be read beyond the narrowest of audiences. Most of them will disappear unnoticed, and frankly unmissed by the world.
Some blogs are conversations among people you’d frankly prefer not to meet, others are cries for help and their writers are clearly in need of therapy. Others are just people expressing themselves, which is an entirely honourable pursuit, but would you like to meet this geek on a dark night?
The speaker is Paul Hayes, managing director of England’s Times Newspapers. I can’t begin to list the number of ways in which he’s missing the point of blogging. I hope his organization doesn’t make the same mistake.