Seems important to note the passing of music criticism as a legitimate job in Canada. John Terauds, for six years staff classical music critic of the Toronto Star, was reassigned this week to the paper’s business section. He was the last full-time classical music critic at a Canadian newspaper. The job of full-time classical music critic literally ceases to exist in English-speaking Canada (Quebec apparently still has a couple of critics).
This is depressing.
Apart from being a fan of John’s work, the loss of his job is symbolic of the end of an era. In the past seven years, more than half of all arts journalism jobs have been eliminated in American newsrooms. It’s fine to say that 300,000 arts blogs now compete for attention online (according to Technorati). And there’s something great about the opening up of public discourse about the arts that the digital world has wrought. In some ways we live in a richer ecosystem of engagement with the arts.
And yet, by a significant measure, the erosion of commitment to covering the arts in traditional newspapers says something about where we are culturally right now. Institutions signify their support by where they choose to put their resources. And the inescapable truth is that these institutions (newspapers) for the most part don’t support the arts.
“Support the arts.” That sounds strange applied to newspapers. Newspapers say they’re supposed to be objective. I don’t mean “support” in the sense of boosting or advocating for them. I mean support in the sense of pay attention to. There’s no conspiracy against the arts here; the business decisions made by the Star and so many newspapers is that there simply isn’t an audience for what the newspapers have traditionally offered as coverage of the arts. These decisions are business decisions, and in a world of shrinking resources, newspapers – like any other business – triage.
I was once a full time classical music critic. The newspaper I was a full-time critic for – the Seattle Post-Intelligencer – no longer exists. There’s only one full-time dance critic left in the United States. Only one full-time visual art critic at a US alt-weekly. My town – Seattle – doesn’t have a full-time classical music critic, and many music events pass without any critical mention at all.
On one level you can say it doesn’t matter. People still go to concerts. Tickets are still selling. And then there are those blogs.
And yet, the market seems to have declared that arts criticism as a profession, as a calling, isn’t supportable, isn’t sustainable, isn’t legitimate. I find that sad. We could go on about what was lacking or what didn’t work in the way we covered the arts. But the cold hard truth is that there just isn’t an audience for what we were doing. We can lament it. Or we can figure out whether there’s a better way to do it and move on.