A threnody: books and arts coverage
This morning in The Dallas Morning News, editor Bob Mong explained some of the changes that will be appearing in the paper soon, changes that we, the readers, supposedly requested. Bigger, more colorful comics, the return of the 500 most active stock index, etc.
Nowhere is any explanation given for the reduced arts coverage, especially when it's now the stated purpose of the paper "to provide local news and information that you can't find anywhere else." The likely reply would be that it hasn't been reduced -- it has the same space. But with the departure of both TV critics, the visual arts critic, the architecture critic, the pop music editor, the film critic, the arts editor, the books editor and, yes, the book critic (me), the Morning News now presents David Kronke -- of the Los Angeles Daily News -- as its de facto TV critic (meaning pretty much no local TV coverage), John Freeman, a fine freelancer, as its lead book critic and any warm body from the Associated Press or one of the LA papers or the Washington Post as a film critic du jour.
Yes, it's a changed media world for daily newspapers everywhere. Yet no one in a position of authority at any paper has managed to explain why the sections that serious readers would be interested in -- the kind of well-off, educated, committted readers whom newspapers would want to keep with in-depth coverage of politics, the arts, books, lengthier feature stories -- why those are precisely the sections that are getting cut? When the mantra was "chase the younger reader," those sections got cut because teens don't read that stuff. Management finally realized that trying to give young people who don't read even less to read wasn't working. So "local is best" became the new theory (one that makes a fair amount of sense to me) -- and those sections still get cut.
In Dallas, when a marvelous advance -- a freestanding daily arts section called GuideLive (yes, a stupid name -- tell that to the marketers) -- was first proposed, designed and tested, the response from management and its sainted focus groups and surveys was overwhelmingly positive. Ad revenue from the movie companies even increased. Let's repeat that: Increased ad revenue in a daily newspaper. Yet all of those facts in favor of better cultural coverage vanished when the new banner of "local is best" was hoisted.
The problem for newspaper arts coverage has little to do with editors' fears of cultural ignorance or what readers want. The problem has to do with the fact that local arts (and book publishing) do not generate much ad revenue. That might explain why the only critic that the DaMN is currently replacing with someone actually in town is -- the restaurant critic. Restaurants provide ad revenue.
Even so, in most major cities, the daily newspaper remains the only single place one can find local arts coverage of a thoughtful quality, and all of it -- dance, opera, pop music, TV, theater, books, film -- all of it in one place. No website I've found (other than the wretchedly designed ones put up by newspapers) manages anything like that breadth, that "connectivity" among a city's arts and its national and even international peers. The result in city after city that I visit is that while the daily paper is whittling away at its local cultural coverage, TV does next to nothing except happy puff pieces, radio does next to nothing locally (and this often but not always includes the area PBS and NPR stations), the city magazine does the occasional tout or glossy profile but no serious sustained coverage (not the way it covers restaurants) and the alternative weekly paper covers pop bands, nightclubs, local theater and food but little else other than the occasional profile or news feature, provided the coverage can be made aggressively, even pointlessly controversial.
This is now (more or less) the rule for local arts coverage in print in America. There are profound exceptions, of course, and people may tout this PBS station or that alternative weekly or even two daily papers locked in sufficient competition that they actually try to top each other when it comes to discussions about authors and artists. But they are exceptions, and I don't see the internet, with its intense, bifurcated development of personal blogs and corporate distrubution systems (just books, just theater, just pop music), providing the same kind of city-wide discussion or spotlight. Before this, it was very hard for live performing arts (theater, dance, opera) or slow-impact arts (books, museums) to cut through the opening-weekend, mass-market, sweeps-week, billion-dollar clutter of the media.
Now, I don't know how any of them manage it.
Critical Mass (National Book Critics Circle blog)
Again With the Comics
Brit Lit Blogs
Buzz, Balls & Hype
The Elegant Variation
Grumpy Old Bookman
The High Hat
The Litblog Co-op
The Literary Saloon
The Phil Nugent Experience
The Quarterly Conversation
Quick Study (Scott McLemee)
Boston Globe Books
Chicago Tribune Books
The Chronicle Review
The Dallas Morning News
The Literary Review/UK
London Review of Books
Times Literary Supplement
San Francisco Chronicle Books
Voice Literary Supplement
Washington Post Book World
AJ BlogsAJBlogCentral | rss
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
rock culture approximately
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
No genre is the new genre
David Jays on theatre and dance
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
John Rockwell on the arts
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Martha Bayles on Film...
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
Exploring Orchestras w/ Henry Fogel
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds
Jerome Weeks on Books
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world
Public Art, Public Space
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog