Arts Journalism Is Dead; Long Live Arts Journalism

I'm just gonna say here that finally, it all got me down. After hearing about the death of criticism, the death of books, the death of theater (actually, this book isn't about the death of theater, but its clarion call for an acknowledgment of theater's sociological significance seems awfully desperate), the death of severance packages, the news from a colleague that her new assignment to her paper's arts beat ended before it began, and the actual death of a laid-off theater critic, I started to wonder what's the point? I mean, I can blog all I want, but isn't that part of the problem? Why buy the cow?...

Anyway, after a couple of days where I sunk so low I ended up going running with my IPod set to a wrist-slitting all-Radiohead shuffle (try clearing your thoughts with that going on), it occurred to me that Radiohead gave away their last album. Why? Because the dying old model wasn't serving them any longer, and they decided that rather than wait around for the machine to fix itself, they'd make a better, stronger one. And so they did.

Here's what I think: 

  1. We must demand arts education in our schools. You can check my old posts about this issue to see how crucial it is for the future of arts journalism, and for the state of the arts in general.
  2. Cross your fingers and hope we get Obama in the White House come November. Better yet, let everyone you know in on his support for the arts and arts education (this is a blog entry from the days when I was still undecided) and on John McCain's utter disdain for both. If you think things are bad now, wait and see what happens when McCain eliminates funding for the NEA.
  3. Encourage the next generation of arts journalists. Rather than discouraging them, as Eric Bentley suggests, send them to J-schools by the score. These kids never knew a world without the internet, and they will be the ones to re-shape journalism as we know it. We might as well do everything we can to ensure that future has a heavy artistic bias. If you discourage students from becoming arts journalists, then yes, the field will die, it will be your fault, and you will be haunted by Oscar Wilde's ghost for the rest of your days. 
  4. Unionize. Been laid off and re-hired as a freelancer? Join the Freelancer's Union. It's lonely out there scarfing donuts in front of your computer all day, and will only get lonelier. You don't have to form a coven and meet in basements every week with charts and hot coffee (although if you've got that going, then good for you). Get connected and still maintain your computer/donut schedule by signing up for listservs and online discussions.
  5.  Join every relevant organization you can. There's power in numbers, and right now arts journalists are feeling completely powerless. Join NAJP, join your national critics' organization (for theater critics, it's ATCA). You are not the only one freaking out--repeat after me, "I am not the only one freaking out."--but if you're doing it alone, you're wasting your energy; use it instead to create a better, stronger machine.
Take off your headphones (and turn off Radiohead, for God's sake, they'll only make things worse), raise that glazed cruller, and refuse to accept defeat. For arts journalists (unlike Hillary), there is no better option; we do our job, or our civilization loses a record of its contemporary cultural significance. 

Now get to work and let me know what you've come up with.

June 5, 2008 12:43 AM | | Comments (4)


Mary, I completely agree, but unfortunately, of late these old saws seem to have taken on more urgency. John McCain has no education policy, and voted to completely withdraw funding from the NEA and even Sahsa Anawalt, head of USC's new master's program in specialized journalism, is wondering whether she's doing students a disservice by encouraging them to pursue this career. Your paper seems to be a truly head-spinning exception to the current downsizing rule, and kudos to your editor and publisher. Here in Philadelphia we have one-count him, one--full-time theater critic. Everyone else is freelance. Not sure about the art critics, but I'm going to guess the situation there is the same.

Anyway, my next entry (was working on it until I lost power last night) will talk a bit about the new models, so please stay tuned and keep offering ideas.

Wendy, forgive me, but there has got to be more than these old saws. Calling for art in the schools, more funding and the encouragement of young journalists are recommendations that have been with us for a while and amount to little more than a generalized complaint about the state of the world.

The way people consume media has and is changed dramatically. What we should be searching for are sound, new models for presenting arts coverage that can compete in this new marketplace.

Let me ask what may seem a controversial question to get the ball rolling: Can we create content that is both entertaining enough to capture and build audiences without sacrificing substance?

(Incidentally, I'm an art and architecture critic at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, a paper which has four fine arts critics. That is almost unheard of and, I hope, an encouragement of sorts).

Thank you.

Following is a link to the Dance Critics Association, which is meeting June 13-15, this coming Friday through Sunday, at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

great ideas [especially that last sentence], and funny, too. thanks.
they've not many arts journalists (or at least, not many who post to their forums) but another good community to know about is Freelance Success

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