May 16, 2006
And The Survey Says... The Pay Sucks!by Douglas McLennan
Here on our final day of this blog, I'd like to return to a question that Anthony asked early on and that some of our commenters have also brought up - where's the money? Why would an accomplished writer with prestigious print gigs like Terry Teachout write a blog for free? Or Greg Sandow or Kyle Gann or Tobi Tobias, Maud Newton or Alex Ross? There are many many others who do other things but somehow find it useful to write for free on a blog.
In the past few years I've talked probably more than 100 such people into blogging, and one of the first questions I'm usually asked is the money question. What I always say (and believe) is that blogging gives you a different relationship with an audience than you get being in print. It's an interactive experience that puts you into conversation with an audience of people who seem to care about what you're saying. And that can be an extremely valuable (and gratifying) resource for a writer and it seems different from the traditional print relationship somehow. The editor who hires Tyler Green not only gets Tyler but an extensive web of people who have been having a relationship with him online for some time.
That's not to say that traditional print journalists don't have extensive contacts too. But the interactive, immediate and personal nature of blogs such as Tyler's and Greg's and Terry's and Maud's and Kyle's are such that these bloggers have access to a pretty amazing network of resources. Tyler, for example was first to break some of the stories about the Getty's recent troubles. I frequently hear from well-placed sources at major cultural institutions eager to share their inside stories.
Yeah, yeah. So a blog is personally stimulating, and it's a great resource for a writer. But the question still remains - who pays for all this free work?
Good question. But it's a question not just confined to the online world. One of the things we haven't talked about here is the crisis of pay for arts journalism. These days it's all but impossible to make a living as an arts journalist in most cities if you're not employed by the local newspaper. And with local newspapers dropping staff critics like so much dirty laundry, even many of those remaining jobs are going away.
Freelance pay is abysmal. Many newspapers are still paying what they were 10 or 15 years ago. How are you supposed to live stringing together reviews at $50 of $75 apiece? And as more newspapers rely on freelancers, the quality and depth of cultural reporting inevitably goes down. Even national publications which once paid decently, have slipped behind. This is a profession that is rapidly turning into a hobby rather than a viable way to make a living. How are younger people supposed to even think about becoming arts journalists if the prospects of making a living are this bleak?
One of the things I have thought about doing here on ArtsJournal is a salary survey - a way of tracking who's paying what where, on the premise that sharing this information might help journalists negotiate better rates. But the likelihood is that such a survey might be too depressing and have the opposite effect. Still - don't the lack of prospects for earning a decent livelihood as arts journalists doom us to a mediocre status?
That's not saying, by the way, that getting paid well is a guarantee of good writing. Indeed, one could make a case that having one of those cushy well-paid staff critic jobs sometimes breeds complacency and arrogance. I've also heard good arguments for term limits for critics so they don't get stale. Still, that old cliche about the starving artist making for better art doesn't work any better if you apply it to critics...
Microsoft Sidewalk anyone?by
Does anybody remember when City Search and Sidewalk were supposed to take over the world? Back in 1997, I was the new entertainment editor at SFGate.com, the fledgling website of the SF Chronicle and SF Examiner (before the JOA separation operation was performed); as we were trying to figure out how to create our own cultural presence on the web after a century of publishing a newspaper, these new corporations muscled into town with so much money that we thought we'd be dead within the year. Really. Many critics, editors and reporters signed juicy contracts and abandoned print -- supposedly forever. The future of arts journalism seemed secured -- and newspapers weren't going to be part of it. Well, Sidewalk tanked, and City Search survived, but it isn't threatening anybody's job except for listings interns. One main reason for this, I believe, is local knowledge, local authority, connection to the community, all of which takes a long time to develop. The other reason is critical authority. Microsoft tried to buy that authority in the marketplace -- and they did recruit some talent. But their corporate listings machine, even if peopled with a few actual critics, didn't win over readers (although City Search did, and continues to in some cities, drain off some of those all important advestising dollars).
But the challenge of blogs is something different -- because the web currently functions as a universal publishing platfrom. I think we should appreciate this problem while we have it. The glut of opinion -- horrors -- is so much better than its opposite, which is very centralized, corporate-controlled media. But this very glut is also an opportunity for criticism, whether it's published in newspapers owned by verneralbe companies or new outfits such as as Gothamist (and SFist and all its other spawn) or Terry Teachout or the SF community visual art site Fecalface.com. Because with all these choices and voices, we need an organizing intelligence to make sense of it all -- and there is a massive audience of art lovers and consumers out there craving knowledge, craving critics. Once newspapers and magazines quit panicking over blogs and the internet in general, maybe they can beat the bloggers at their own game. Or maybe not. But I do agree with Doug that the blog/old media dichotomy is a red herring.
A friend argued the other day that the proliferation of critical voices carried on the digital flood makes it more important than ever to find singular critics that one can get to know and like and trust. I think she makes a good point. There’s the practical matter of finding time to read 12 critics instead of one or two.
Like with breakfast cereal, you can be paralyzed by too many choices and comforted when you find one you enjoy every day. The new wrinkle is that it’s possible today that while living in Minneapolis, you can have a fave critic for movies in London, for music in New York, for theater in Minneapolis and for books in Auckland. Your “favorites” can include one critic who works for the Stranger, one for Pitchfork, one for a daily paper, another for a personal blogsite and one for an established online site like Salon or Slate.
It would be nice if the unruly chorus could reign within a single newspaper more than seems to be the case today in cultural journalism. At a union shop like my paper, there are limits to how much freelance I can use, which in turn means that the bulk of the coverage comes from staff writers.
Extraordinary machinesby About Last Night
Doug has been trying to nudge our discussion toward a consideration of the possibility that the new “preference engines” (to coin a phrase) currently being rolled out all over the Web might be making certain forms of arts journalism obsolete. I agree. To be sure, I have yet to buy a single book, CD, or DVD as a result of the countless automated tips generated by amazon.com, but I use Pandora every day (I’ve blogged about it here). Will such devices ultimately replace critics? No, but I think they’re going to have a significant effect on what critics do, just as the rise of the Web has already caused newspapers around the country to rethink the utility of publishing old-fashioned ink-on-paper features like stock-market tables.
I’ve been reading Phillip Lopate’s new anthology of American film criticism, in whose introduction I ran across this passage:
Manny Farber once told an interviewer that as a critic he found the role of evaluation “practically worthless. The last thing I want to know is whether you like it or not; the problems of writing are after that. I don’t think it has any importance; it’s one of those derelict appendages of criticism. Criticism has nothing to do with hierarchies.”
I don’t agree—not quite—but I do think Farber was onto something that has turned out to be highly relevant.
To quote Doug:
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?
Now, the “consumer report” function of criticism is not to be despised, especially when you cover a branch of art that is expensive to consume (as I do in my capacity as the drama critic for The Wall Street Journal, in whose pages I regularly review Broadway shows with hundred-dollar tops). But I see less and less point in publishing preference-driven “criticism” of such commodity art as Hollywood films and commercial pop music, especially if you’re the editor of a regional newspaper where space and resources are limited. Chris’ posting about the Union-Tribune’s new approaches to covering the arts points to a number of innovative ways in which such papers might make better use of their resident arts writers.
Believe me, I’m not saying that criticism is soooo Nineties, much less soooo over. Good writing justifies its own existence. If you can find people capable of writing stylish, trenchant reviews of blockbuster movies, by all means hire them and let ’em rip—but don’t settle for anything less. If, on the other hand, you have to choose between publishing mediocre criticism and solid, informative feature writing…well, there’s no choice, least of all nowadays.
The Other Way Aroundby
To answer Gretel's question about avant-garde journalism, yes. There should be and there has been. Alternative journlaism was born out of the 60s counterculture/New Left movement. Though I should say "reborn" since the Village Voice, mother of all alt weeklies was born in the 50s. The 60s also saw the birth of New Journalism, another rebirth really, since it harked back to earlier, less constricted forms of writing journalism.
Alas, the weeklies became formulaic and New Journalism seemed to have had little impact on dailies. But in those cases, yes, the form and the content matched, e.g. rock criticism always took the same attitude as rock itself. Attitude is all over the blogs, but it's a pity that it hasn't had an impact on dailies, or at least not yet.
Newspapers are going online and we who work in them are being urged to take this medium seriously. The debate over the correctness of such a move has focused on whether the high standards of print journalism will be carried on to the web, or will we allow an unfcoused sloppiness that print journalists see not just online but in all other media. What is missing in the debate is the other way around. Will the online work of print journalists be allowed the attitudinousness that permeates online postings, e.g. can we use 4-letter words, which not always but sometimes are the right words to use for their Anglo-Saxon directness? And will we allow the au courant style of online to seep into our print work. The marriage of new and old media will produce offspring. What beast slouches to the newsroom to be born?
Posted by at 2:31 PM
More Reader Commentsby Douglas McLennan
You can find complete comments here.
Messaging, email, fingerplans, listservs, Usenet News, webgroups, cheap webhosting, and now blogs. Every one of them was supposed to revolutionize the world like nothing before. Every one of them did have an impact. Every one of them eventually lived down the hype and settled into equilibrium. It's been going on since the early 1970s and probably before then. - Ravi Narasimhan
I see--and use--critics as reporters of an individual encounter with art. They can provide context and interpret and judge, but they also serve as a proxy for me, the reader. Or at least, I imagine and expect to find myself in the critic's position, face to face with art, in attendance at a performance, or reading the same text. This kind of reporting is by definition subjective, and I can find and judge and come to trust (or dismiss) a critic's ability wherever I find her. - Greg.org
One of the things that's changing (I hope) is that print begins to legitimize the online critical community as the online critical community legitimizes the print world. We bloggers already do that by frequently linking to print criticism and information that we find interesting or worthy of discussion. On the other hand, the online world ... George Hunka
You can tell nigh instantly whether a writer knows what he's talking about. You can tell over the course of a few installments whether his critical angle interests you. Good critics apply good writing chops to the experience of looking at art, and they have experiences looking at art worth writing about. A sustained ability to produce the resultant content accumulate critical capital for the writer. - Franklin Einspruch
With Google digitizing the entire print world and no doubt other entities soon springing forth to digitize everything that can be digitied (for example - every photograph ever taken), does the role of critic as an identifier of important/significant culture have any relevance today? After all, if we get to the point that we can capture, save, access and consume all culture whenever and wherever we want, why do we need someone to tell us which cultural products matter anymore? It is a bit like the US government capturing all information that it possibly can on everyone, warehousing the information and then accessing the information should the need arise. When culture no longer has a shelf-life, why do we need a critic to decide what is "good", "bad", "mediocre" or worth consuming? - Dallas
Posted by mclennan at 12:36 PM
The internet gives great opportunities for innovation, but I'm not ready to give up on print and the guiding hand of journalism. Over the last year or so, we've experimented at the San Diego Union-Tribune with a number of new approaches to covering arts events. For coverage of a lengthy summer music festival in La Jolla, we've assigned general assignment writers to do saturation coverage, looking with fresh eyes at the annual gathering of some of the world's best classical musicians and writing features, interviews, brief bios and scene pieces. We've had some of our critics interview the subjects of their review -- sort of a post game lockerroom chat -- before sitting to write the review. (Not so surprising, artists are harsher than most critics about their own performance). Our opera critic attended practices and had pre-performance interviews with the director and leading characters before watching and evaluating the performance. We've also diversified voices whenever possible, assigning a theater critic to review an opera; sending the dance critic to do the same. In addition, we have endeavored to free the photojournalism of arts coverage from the limitation of being tied to the event review. In the most dramatic departure, our review of The Barber of Seville ran inside the section, but a 12 column photo of the dramatic set (it wrapped from front to the back of the section) ran on the section cover with a short essay on the visual and staging efforts that opera offers. The result of that photo -- not that this is our job -- was a run on the box office the next day and a sellout for that show. It seems almost trite to say this, but the arts are invariably among the most visually beautiful events in most communities, yet our "game'' coverage, as I like to call it, is too often driven by the 15 or 16 inches of evaluation the review offers. We have also started a new, full-page feature called "Decodings,'' which uses photos, graphics and text to explain in detail elements of arts. One "decoded'' a modern art installation from the artist's and critic's point of view. Another explained the secret signals in Mozart's "Magic Flute.''
We need to take people into the process in varied and creative ways. Pre-game chats, post game interviews. Creative photography and graphics have their place here too. I'd like to start embedding small, remote control cameras in scenery and in smart places at concerts to take our readers into the experience in ways that will look new and fresh. All of these could have energetic presentations on the web as well. Other ideas?
I have to agree with Claude in general on the 'hard to find artists willing to write' argument -- with this proviso: In my experience, it has been hard to find artists and musicians willing to write who can articulate what they're doing well, given the time and space restrictions and given the idea that the article/essay isn't simply an ad for their institution or work. The lack of good writers among painters or theater people or musicians may seem odd, but -- to return to the dread world of sports analogies -- athletes often can't explain what they do. That's what coaches and managers and agents and TV sportscasters are for.
Over the years, we've approached artists and area arts groups for this or that reason, and we often found that the temptation for them, especially if they're arts administrators, to turn instantly into cheerleaders was a struggle for us to counteract. Instead of insight, analysis, even the promotion of a particular argument or idea, we got boosterism. Folks, writing intelligently and cogently about culture is a set of skills , ones that may be cheaply discounted in the current market, but nevertheless, not everyone has them. I'm sure there are artists who can do this, and I'm not saying we shouldn't try. Frankly, I think it would be great. But consider it seriously for a moment: In your direct experience, just how common is the artist-writer-intellectual-journalist?
Claude Peck writes that he hasn't found many artists "who are interested in writing for publication." I have heard that from other editors, too. To blunder in, presumptuously: I can think of any number of musicians who would very likely be interested in writing for publication and who would have something distinctive and valuable to say -- something they could say better than anyone else..
It depends on who you ask. It depends on who you know.
This is another department of objectivity/disengagement: journalists/critics and artistis tend to live on different islands. I appreciate that there are advantages, but on balance I don't think it's healthy.
Also, being cited or quoted isn't remotely like writing your own piece. In my experience, I am never quoted precisely and rarely quoted reliably. I usually wind up supplying a morsel for someone else's meal.
Yes, a lot of so-so writing shows up in arts blogs, but the same is true in print coverage, where the rote single-source advancer and the dry-as-dust, tossed-adjective review is commonplace.
The New York Times last Friday reviewed the MOMA show of artworks given to the museum by the late California collector Edward Broida. I read and enjoyed the review, but also thought it suffered from overuse of categorizations and art labels. In just a few paragraphs before the jump, the story had a gumbo of “isms,” including several examples of the dread hyphenate-ism: Minimalism, Post-Minimalism, Minimalist-Realist, Abstract Expressionist, faux-Expressionism, Photo Realism and Conceptualism. Expressionism is further divided after the jump into neo-, faux- and anti-. Does this kind of lingo help educate a reader, or throw up barriers to understanding? It seems designed more to show off one's supposed erudition than to clearly explain artists and their work. Should editors flag that kind of usage? I think so, as the bulk of the story had interesting things to say about Philip Guston and other artists represented in the show. But to get to it you had to wade through what read like the index of an art-history textbook.
Counterexamples abound, as in the superb, knowing and sensitive music writing of Times critic Bernard Holland, who had this “applies-to-anyone/anything” observation in a 4-paragraph review in today’s Times, about sadness in Shostakovich’s late string quartets, as played by the Emerson Quartet: “Music can be unhappy in several ways. Some pleads for our sympathy. Some demonstrates its nobility in the face of suffering. Shostakovich’s last quartets do neither. We are witness to something insconsolable that we are helpless to do anything about. Shostakovich in these amazing pieces is like some wounded beast incapable of asking for help, much less pity. We can only observe.” And even if we didn't see the show, we can only keep reading.
Woa there . . .by
I'm sorry, but I have a BIG reservation about throwing out all notions of a critic's so-called objectivity, and the way the highly personal nature of blogging has encouraged this -- what Claude Peck noted earlier about all those fans' reviews and the difficulty in discerning agendas and whose ox is getting gored.
For one thing, many arts critics are not dealing with noble, struggling local painters, actors, authors. We're dealing with billion-dollar, multi-national media conglomerates, and that's a very good reason for the relatively recent development of what Mr. Horowitz rather dismissively terms a critic's "disengagement." What has cheapened the entire enterprise of cultural criticism isn't blogging but the cynical, corporate manipulation of the press: the networks' and movie studios' and record companies' use of blurbs from Any Critic Anywhere (even the creation of Phantom Critics), its promotion and manipulation of happy-face critics on TV and so on.
Ultimately, as much as I may admire, identify with and learn from an artist, my duties lie with the reader, serving him, and as artists have increasingly become very media-and-self-promotion savvy, I have become wary of being courted and spun. As a book critic, I've had acquaintances call me up and flat-out ask for reviews. When I told them this simply wasn't permitted, they were taken aback -- an indication of the easy, completely accepted notion in the New York media world of one hand washing the other, and a good reason, one suspects, that so much of what passes for book reviewing in New York is cozy, snoozy and insular.
On the other hand, when I was a theater critic in Dallas, I went to parties with theater people, mingled with them, gained sources -- hell, I married a local actress. But before I even dated her, I told her that I could never review her again. That was part of the bargain.
Her reply: Well, your never reviewing me again would be a plus, wouldn't it?
Added, later thought: None of the above directly pertains to a critic's impersonal objectivity, which I agree is philosophically, psychologically impossible to attain. And it's debatable how valuable trying to achieve that is, as opposed to simply being open about one's preferences, biases, etc. My argument above concerns professional objectivity. And if people want to be taken seriously as cultural critics, I seriously believe that's fundamental.
Considering the hybridby
So far almost everyone here has dealt in fuzzy generalities instead of talking about specific papers, magazines, or writers. Well, let's begin to change that...
Consider for a moment the hybrid: Part review, part reported piece. In today's New York Times, Alan Riding authors a fine example, an interesting look at Paris' Orangerie.
Daily newspapers almost always shy away from this kind of writing. (Riding and Nicolai Ouroussoff are the only NYT writers who regularly write this way. Sometimes under-appreciated Washington Postie Philip Kennicott does too, but I can't think of many others.) These hybrids are a lot of fun to read, they're thoroughly informative, and they engage readers from multiple angles.
In the last few months I've written two of these pieces for the New York Observer: One on a problematic show of contemporary art from the Islamic world at MoMA, and one on changes at NYC's Guggenheim Museum. They were a joy to write. Judging from the email I received (and from the links and discussion I saw in the blogosphere) I think other people enjoyed reading them too.
One of the best things about this format is that it allows journos/critics to write about the arts within the context of broader human events. That's the context in which art is made, and that is the context in which art is not-often-enough written about.
I'd love to see more of these pieces, especially in Sunday papers which seem made for them. So why do so few daily papers allow/run them?
It all mattersby
Blogs just might be the best thing that could happen to us. Anyone who has had to explain to an editor why, say, Duchamp is not an obscure reference in an art review, knows how limited traditional print journalism can be as an environment that promotes critical (let alone historical) thought. We, in printdom, have some advantages in terms of quality control but our filtering system is flawed. I’ve often wondered what would happen if arts journalists were allowed to write with the same level of authority as sports writers. Would we gain back readers? Is possible that in a quest to chase down the mythical “everyreader” with bite-size bits of info we’ve actually ended up alienating them?
Column inches in the blogosphere are infinite and, for those who need to weigh in and for readers hungry for something uncensored, it’s a bonanza. Our mission may be different, but maybe we can learn to do things differently. Instead of catering to people who don’t read, why not try going after those who do? Call it an experiment. And let’s not get caught up in the legitimacy game of who is the real critic and who isn’t. For now, it’s whoever has the gumption to write and post their opinions. Several months ago, I participated in a series of events on the state of art criticism at the School of the Art Institute that began with lectures by academics and ended (or devolved depending on your point of view) with a panel of local arts journalists. I was in the latter group and it had been made clear to me by more than one person that “real” criticism did not exist in journalism. (Academics? Dwindling readers? Please). Well, we already know that what we do is much more than purely criticism--we preview, review, feature, profile. Receptivity to the arts can be measured by our ability to do the work we do. What we choose to write about is a form of criticism—and our work is like meat tenderizer. Our work allows critics to go in deeper and readers to get why it matters. And without bloggers, we might not even be having this conversation.
Censored sex and the city paperby
A few words on journalistic objectivity. In the 90s I wrote a feature for a NY paper on the city's Colombian community in the borough of Queens -- home of the largest Colombian population outside their country. I was interested in reporting on it because it defied some Anglo-American notions of a barrio. To wit, there was a certain amount of prosperity, albeit some of it from illegal business -- in that sense no different from the history of many immigrant communities in American cities. I learned of a couple of upscale women's boutiques and went to interview their owners. These female entrempeneurs showed me the clothes they sold, all of it European latest fashion, all of it very sexy -- the shoes would've made the ladies in Sex and the City blush, the slacks and jeans were curve-revealing skintight. "American women are not as comfortable with their bodies and their sensuality as we Latinas are,'' one of the boutique owners told me. I quoted her. When I filed my copy, one of the paper's editors who was overseeing the project told me, "You're very sexist.'' Since it was a man talking to me, I thought it was some kind of macho joke. But no, he was serious. Then he showed me a photo one of the paper photographers had taken to illustrate the article, of an aged and poor Colombian woman in church. "Is she sexy and proud of her body?", the editor asked me. It did not matter that I insisted I had not said it, a woman had, a Colombian woman, a Colombian woman who ran her own business. Sexist he thought it to be and so that whole section was deleted.
Journalistic objectivity is sloppy at best, biased at its worst. There was no science in my method of finding suitable subjects for my article, nor was there any in the photographer's. However, I approached my topic from the perspective of a Latin American, someone who knew both the neighborhood and the country where its residents came from, and a former academic Latinamericanist. My editor approached it from the point of view of (stupid) accepted wisdomo: a Latino neighborhood is the home of the suffering and downtrodden, like the woman in the photograph and not like the sassy ladies who ran their own successful upscale business. Where does objectivity lie?
To echo Joe's plea for engagement, I submit that my personal engagement in Latino communities guides the choices I make as a reporter. Do not confuse this with identity politics, which I have grown to detest. This has nothing to do with ethnic pride, ugh. It has to do with experience, in my case both in training (academic experience in Latin American culture) and life (having grown up and continuing to live inside Latin American culture). Lacking any scientifically verifiable standard of objectivity -- and, as I have indicated before the very notion has no scientific basis -- I use what most journalists use: my nose (er, perhaps a bad choice of words in reference to my Colombian brothers and sisters). No one is born with a nose for culture, whether it's politics or the arts, any more than with a nose for wine. One acquires it. And the strongest way to acquire it is to be engaged with the subject matter at hand.
As for artists publishing, I refer you to a brilliant NTY Tijmes article by Brazilian singer/songwriter Caetano Veloso on the film Orfeu (based on the same work as the popular though naive Black Orpheus) for which Veloso -- Mr. Veloso at the Times -- wrote the music. That an artist was asked to write and to write about a work in which he was a creator was truly exceptional. As exceptional as the article, one of the most intellectually informed and rigorous I have read in Arts & Leisure (Veloso's intellect is as rich as his musical gifts). It was rigorous but not "objective" and it argued cogent theses from the perspective of engagement. More of that, please!
Posted by at 6:53 AM
Sports and the Artsby
I have some issues with overworking the connection between sports and the arts, though I'm a sports fan myself. Certainly the sports coverage in most newspapers tends to be better than the arts coverage, but a significant reason for this is that editors are far more likely to be sports fans than art connoisseurs. The plentiful coverage -- plus, to be blunt, the fact that sports are a lot easier to understand and require less of the spectator than the arts tend to (the faux populism of the sports comparison really does annoy me, I must admit) -- creates an audience that demands quality writing and coverage and won't put up with less. I can't tell you how many writers I know who couldn't cut it in sports section and got transferred to the job of rock critic because, hey, they like music and who cares if they can't write well or knowledgably about it.
As for access, it's true that athletes can be fined if they don't do interviews -- so can movie stars, who typically are contractually obligated to grant interviews to promote their new projects. Both produce about the same quality of interview. Locker-room interviews are the very definition of trite, as are movie junkets. In-depth stories with the kind of drama we all like are equally rare in both fields.
Also, the heart of sports writing -- the follow-up game report and analysis -- really is the equivalent of the review. The difference is that, because of television and the plethora of coverage I've already described, people already know the basics and you can get as deep as you want. Columnists -- the equivalent of critics, really -- are again given an enormous amount of range to comment on the sports issues they're interested in. How many arts writers enjoy similar freedom?
As for local coverage, I don't know who these actors, musicians, painters and writers are who refuse to open up to the media, because I've never met them. Local artists are desperate for coverage, and if you show them the slightest attention, they'll practically invite you to live with them. Try to get the space for those stories.
People at the top of their field in terms of accomplishment or fame are always going to be hard to get access to. But you have a much better shot if you establish your publication as smart and friendly to the arts.