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July 18, 2005

Where did I put that periwig?

I appreciate Norman’s warning, but I am just not sure, one, that most critics are as blind to the changing world as he suggests; two, that the field’s requirements are much different from good journalism in the past; and, three, that the ball is really in our court anyway.

Keeping up with a changing world is the responsibility of a journalist. It’s why the field exists. To really learn this from the inside, after I got a master’s in musicology, I spent three years as a copy editor and freelancer. It was invaluable for me. I don’t know how many others did something similar, but if you keep your eyes open, you usually learn the precepts on the job. Here at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, I am constantly paying attention not only to what the beat requires, but also to what my editors are thinking and to what direction the wind is blowing worldwide.

I don’t doubt that some of my colleagues are stuck in their ways, but a vast majority of them are quite aware of the realities of this business -- the politics and the trends included, even if we sometimes lament them. In fact, to put all of the weight of this changing nature of newspapers and criticism on the music critic is not quite fair -- some changes are beyond the reach of the critic, no matter his or her ken. We just must keep faith in the notion that our knowledge will always be needed. And, yes, Norman, “sitting, night after night, in the best seats in a concert hall or opera house” should never have been enough to be a good critic! No great criticism was ever written by an out-of-touch journalist – it is, after all, the field of communications and society (I even write obits, for Pete’s sake). I don’t think that Armageddon is just around the corner, but if it comes, I would hope we will adapt.

Posted by adruckenbrod at July 18, 2005 02:55 PM


Maybe the musical criticism in the English-speaking world may decline, in the Netherlands there's another situation.
Two large publishers of daily newspapers, Wegener the by an Engelish fund financed PCM, have joined forces in order to stop the on-going running down of the sales of their newspapers. They push aside the fact that it's a publisher's task and responsibility to distribute and avoid any decline. They have planned to let eight (8!) seperate titles disappear in a merger, serving both national and regional news. Per next September this will be a fact. For the arts this means that, with the rise of populism during the last three years in mind, anything will be done to economise and to put aside subjects that - to the editor's and publisher's opinion - may be too serious or even not read at all by the readers. Therefore, the estimated 635.000 readers will not be sufficiently enough informed about the artlife in a substantial part of our country, the cities of Utrecht, Leiden, Den Haag and Rotterdam.

As critic on opera, classical and world music for the Rotterdams Dagblad, this means that I need to shorten my writings over and over again - if being published at all, not only because of the change from broadsheet to tabloid but also because of editorial negligance towards the arts. This ends up in a way too short and superficial report of what is going on in the theatres and concert-halls.
Thus publishers are trying to get grip on the contents of the new newspaper, in order to commercialise further for the sake of a foreign financer and his share-holders.
In this way, art-criticism in general is threatened, not by a lack of quality, but by lack of interest of both editors and publishers. If only they were so honest to admit their own lack of interest instead of blaming it on the assumed unwillingness of buyers of the newspapers to read artnews and critics.
Willem Jan Keizer, Rotterdams Dagblad

Posted by: Willem Jan Keizer at July 19, 2005 05:40 AM

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