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May 14, 2006

Up against it

by About Last Night
I’m an old-media critic who doubles as a new-media artblogger. I started About Last Night, the first ArtsJournal blog, because I foresaw the rapid rise of the Web as a center of commentary on the arts and wanted to get in on the ground floor. What I didn’t foresee—and should have—was that some four years after the appearance of the earliest artblogs, so much of the best arts commentary on the Web would still be the work of amateur critics (and I use the word “amateur” in the most complimentary sense possible). When About Last Night went live in the summer of 2003, nearly all of the best artblogs were being written by people who had published little or nothing in newspapers or magazines. That hasn’t changed much, though a few established print-media critics like me now blog on the side, just as some old-media arts editors have started looking to the Web for new talent.

To me, the significance of artblogging is that it gives amateur critics with compelling voices an electronic printing press that makes it possible for them to be read by anyone who cares to seek them out. I don’t have a problem with that. On the contrary, I find it hugely stimulating. From the beginning, About Last Night has sought to enable up-and-coming new-media arts commentators by blogrolling them and linking to their blogs on a regular basis. As far as I’m concerned, the best artbloggers are at least as good as the best print-media critics. In fact, I now spend more time reading artblogs than the arts sections of most magazines and newspapers. They’re fresher, livelier, and timelier.

Therein lies my answer to your question, Doug. Middle-aged print-media critics who want to be read in the age of Web-based journalism must start by recognizing that they’re in direct competition with younger bloggers. If they don’t, they’ll vanish—and most of them will deserve their fate. If I were a newspaper editor, I’d be looking to the blogs for the next generation of critics. What’s more, I’d not only encourage but expect my new young guns to transfer their blogs to my newspaper's Web site, complete with snark and comments and four-letter words.

Time was when the critics of large-circulation newspapers and magazines were important de facto, regardless of whether or not they had anything original to say. That time is over, and a good thing, too. I know I’m not entitled to be part of the cultural conversation simply by virtue of the fact that I publish in The Wall Street Journal. The only way for critics to “earn their authority” in the age of new media is to be interesting. Nothing less is good enough.

Posted by tteachout at May 14, 2006 11:00 AM

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