I like the Guardian. Though it has a good stable of writers, its biggest strength is its editing. The Guardian is a consistently lively read day in and day out. This is a paper that isn’t afraid to argue with itself. A critic might sound off on some topic one day, only to be contradicted a few days later by another critic. A day after that the head of the National Theatre is weighing in to tell both critics they’re full of it.
There’s room for long arcane essays about stone sculpting in the Renaissance or a neglected Russian composer, for no reason other than they’re worth the read. You might get a spirited five paragraph defense of one of the city’s orchestras, short and sweet. Culture news is treated as important to the life of the city and the country. Cultural figures frequently appear not only as subjects but also as writers.
Though there are dumb stars attached to reviews, the writing about performances and events isn’t all about the Consumer Report. The paper has invited well-known artists in to redesign the paper for a day and play with the format. The Guardian regularly runs these impossible quizzes about culture designed to humble you. And over the course of a month, you’re likely to see a pretty wide swath of topics. You have a sense over time that the Guardian believes culture is fun and interesting.
The website is one of the best-designed of any newspaper, with clear navigation and a practical sense about how people use an online newspaper. The Guardian has played with multi-media, but it is integrated into the site in a way that isn’t gimmicky. The paper’s “Culture Vulture” blog has become a place to find the kinds of musings that, while they might not make for an entire article, are things an audience member who’s paying attention might wonder about.
But the two best things about the Guardian’s culture report are:
1. The paper doesn’t talk to readers as if they’re stupid. Guardian editors don’t assume that everyone comes to the paper with the same level of knowledge. What they do presume is a level of interest, a desire to engage with the topic. That seems like it should be obvious, but many newspapers are so busy chasing some mythical Everyreader that passion is often leeched out.
2. There’s a strong sense of world view. Contemporary culture is so vast and diverse that it’s impossible to make the claim that any newspaper is getting it all. Or even the best of it. But too many newspapers’ cultural coverage is a scattershot affair – a little of this, a little of that – so it’s difficult to know what exactly the newspaper believes is the place of culture in its community. The Guardian seems to have a sense of it.
Oh there are irritants. Curiously, the amount of space devoted to dance seems stingy for a city that offers so much dance. And the paper hasn’t yet figured out how to tap into its readership in more interesting ways. The social networking of Web 2.0, with all its user-generated community-building has so far eluded the paper. It would be nice to see the Guardian be even more experimental online, try some cultural debates and formats that better take advantage of the internet’s faster flow of ideas.
Still – the Guardian is by far the gold standard for cultural coverage on the internet.