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May 15, 2006

Three Cheers Tyler

by 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.

Posted by aszanto at May 15, 2006 7:37 AM


To readers, there may be much less difference between the unpaid Depeche obsessive and the "established" critic...both in terms of voice and the perceived accuracy/value of the assessments. Readers are more discerning than they often get credit for, and whether the pros like it or not they are driving. They know, for example, not to trust the words of sometone just because she publishes in a newspaper. Any discussion of a "future" for this line of work has to address not just the means of delivery and abovestated issues of professionalization, but what the curious, well informed reader is seeking. my hunch is it ain't just 50 word record reviews.

Posted by: tom moon at May 15, 2006 2:49 PM

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