Thoughts on an increasingly freelance industry
My fellow blogger John Stoehr recently forwarded the rest of us a piece Greg Sandow wrote for the Wall Street Journal ("Yes, Classical-Music Criticism is in Decline: But the last thing the industry should do is blame the press," June 16). In that article, Sandow explains the decline in classical music criticism from his perspective and argues that the recent flurry of outrage (among some) about cuts in positions may be a bit misguided.
Although I'm of a different generation than Sandow and have a different background as a writer, I also have mixed feelings about arts journalism cuts. While of course I generally feel it's a bad thing--having fewer people getting their critical voices out there can't be good, and I feel for anyone losing his or her job--we must look at the reader's perspective. Some papers have argued that freelancers will fill the gap left by cuts in staff-writer positions. While time will tell if that truly happens (and that's a crucial "if"), cutting staffers does not automatically mean less arts coverage within the paper. As a freelancer myself, I think there are positive and negative aspects to current trends.
First, the negatives: a full-time or even half-time staff writer often has the kind of undivided attention to really stay in tune with a community's arts scene, both in terms of "newsy" items and as a critical voice. When you're a freelancer with a full-time job that may or may not be arts-related (I'm thankful mine is), it can be harder to stay abreast of local arts. Also, fewer staff positions mean that those freelancers who would like to break into full-time jobs have an even dimmer chance of getting one. Arts writing becomes a hobby to satisfy a passion, not a way of making a living.
But being slightly hungry and writing because you love it can be a good thing. At the 2007 NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Theater and Musical Theater, where the other Flyover bloggers and I met, I was struck by how many of us were freelancers. Out of the 25 participants, 10 of us were freelancers, and I don't think you could make the generalization that the freelancers had less education or credibility in their subject areas (for example, two of the freelancers were actually college professors who enjoy writing theater criticism for their local papers). Both freelancers and full-time staff writers held their own in spirited group critiques of our writing, and we learned from each other. And although we didn't plan it this way, we four Flyover bloggers are evenly divided between freelance and staff writers.
Perhaps I'll be pilloried for this, but I think sometimes freelancers who are very knowledgeable in a particular subject area bring even more to the table than staff writers forced to write far outside their areas of expertise, or worn down by the day-to-day grind of their jobs. As an avid reader, I've seen it happen. While the best staff writers carve out a unique voice over the long haul--one you gladly return to time after time, knowing almost intuitively how your views parallel or collide with theirs--there are also quite a few staff writers who seem to have lost their zeal. They crank out tired, unimaginative copy week after week, and if they could be replaced by newcomers with some freshness and expertise, it would truly benefit readers. Lest anyone think I'm making veiled comments about any particular paper, I'll make it clear that I am not. I simply believe that as arts journalism shifts ever more gradually to a freelance rather than full-time vocation, there may be mixed blessings for readers.
Bloggers We Love
Bridgette Redman and Lansing Theater
Drew McManus' "Neo Classical" at the Partial Observer
Marc Moss (Missoula, MT artist)
Mary Louise Schumacher's "Art City"
Other Great Sites
American Composers Orchestra
Arts & Letters Daily
Center for Arts and Culture
Cultural Policy and the Arts National Data Archive
National Arts Journalism Program
NEA Arts Journalism Institute for Dance Criticism
NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Classical Music and Opera
NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Theater & Musical Theater
New Music Box: American Music Center
USC Annenberg/Getty Arts Journalism Program
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