The problem with newspaper coverage of
the arts in San Diego as elsewhere is that arts coverage
has become tangled with boosterism. In many cases critics
are discouraged from writing honest reviews, especially
of presentations by major local institutions. The pressure
to write glowingly of mediocre productions comes from two
sources: the socially prominent trustees of of arts organizations
and the owners of the newspaper, who are often also prominent
in the arts.
Critics are also discouraged from writing
anything, news or reviews of amateur arts presentations.
In San Diego, for example, a fine orchestra and chorus presents
a season of concerts at a 1200-seat auditorium on the campus
of University of California at San Diego. The music director
and the choral conductor are both on the university faculty,
and the section leaders receive a small stipend from patrons.
But the rest of the performers are volunteers.
This group regularly fills the hall with
people, young and old, students and professors, and music-lovers
from the entire region, people to hear excellent readings
of classics and challenging newer works. The San Diego Union-Tribune
has never published a single review or feature story about
this group. Why? The newspaper has a policy of ignoring
performances by what it considers "amateurs."
This is a disservice to many San Diegans who have no way
of knowing about the excellent performances available to
them at reasonable prices.
Alice Goldfarb Marquis
COVERAGE WE DESERVE?
arts coverage in journalism is just where we deal with the
consequences of bad arts. Supposedly nonprofit institutions
are run by marketing groups, galleries are investment opportunities,
and theater is a way for audiences to give themselves standing
ovations for being so discerning as to pay a week's worth
of grocery money to give themselves standing ovations.
should the arts expect to be treated any differently from
any other self-congratulatory big-walleted group? There
are still more art critics than chess columnists in the
the special case of writing on the static visual arts, I
have a nascent theory that it was demolished by full color
reproductions, thus replacing the stylishness of Pater and
Baudelaire by the coffee table book full of unread doctorate-speak.
(I look forward to this theory being easily demolished by
about fifteen minutes of research.)
trying to convert curators into football teams just exacerbates
the problem. The problem is that they're already trying
to be football teams, and football teams (with some exceptions)
will always do that better.
COVERAGE SHOULDN'T BE DUMBED DOWN
can not disagree more with the article on why American papars
and media don't give much attention to the arts. For starters,
look at even the better papers such as the NY Times
and The Washington Post. They mostly promote nothing
but Hollywood movies for several pages, because of the cash
they recieve for promoting the movies. FULL PAGE ADS! Cut
that Hollywood trash in half,and give the other half to
writers, artist, and occasional public contributors.
I don't think we should treat art like a sporting event.
As an artist, I want people to repspect the work of an artist
and to enjoy it because they like what they see. Not because
its a competition or event to go cheer for the home team.
Art is Art. Leave it alone. Those who like it, will like
it, those that don't have an interest in it, can do what
ever they like instead.
give more space to the arts section of a paper in the interest
of those who do appreciate it, not just for local art events
but worldwide as well. Expose people to past and present
artist bios, and it will attract more interest. You can't
please everyone, but it doesn't mean you have to conceed
to sports or other sections just because it's more popular
to the general public.
is known for standing on the outside of mainstream society.
Why should it start now to try and blend in like the latest
fad or fashion, just to please some shmuck who's biased
towards the arts anyway. We can't all be the same, but we
should all get our fair share of the paper.
FOR BAD ARTS COVERAGE
I think the first reason for bad
arts coverage is that major metropolitan newspapers do not
hire the best writers. They hire arts writers who have previously
worked on a daily. That cuts out a huge pool of talented
people who could not afford to write about arts for a small
daily and work their way up. Great writers help generate
The second reason is the narrowness
of the arts assignments. They are written to formula. Newspapers
do not give these people the scope that, for example, the
New Yorker gave film critic Pauline Kael to write about
anything she wanted to. Thus the writer who would take a
more comprehensive and holistic view of the importance of
the arts to our lives and our world does not go after the
The third reason - and I am just
guessing from the results - is that arts reviewers in big
newspapers are encouraged to include phrases that can be
lifted for an ad. Thus if a Boston Herald reviewer who doesn't
laugh once during a comedy calls it a "must-see," the play
can buy an ad in the Boston Herald and cite the Boston Herald.
The fourth reason is that arts communities
are fragmented and full of internecine wars. The Art Museum
wants all the attention for the Art Museum, the Opera only
cares about opera, theater people can't get together for
five minutes before someone takes offense at an unintended
The fifth reason is the dearth of
mechanisms for encouraging new talent in the arts. Original,
pathbreaking work in the arts can generate great human-interest
stories that draw in new readers, but many of the people
who are doing that cutting-edge work can afford to do it
only as a sideline. And the organizations that should be
nurturing new talent, like the Actors Theatre of Lousville
with its Humana award, have been known to solicit big-name
movie stars and novelists like Joyce Carol Oates for original
plays. What is that all about?
Wayland (MA) Town Crier
Mr. Lavin in his article on arts coverage
reflects his own background and that of many editors, which
are much the same. To equate sports and the "arts" is stupid
and Mr. Lavin knows it.
The page coverage only reflects sales
and nothing else - if 24 yahoos buy a paper describing some
dim wit hitting a ball over the fence and only one paper
is sold to a person wanting to know about the performance
of Miss X or Mr Y, why then who are you going to cater to?
Perhaps Mr Lavin's sentence should read
- Clearly the editors of papers all over America realize
sports sell papers . When I was quite young - I'm way over
43 - I remember my father asking - 'do you and mom want
to hear Rubinstein?' I would. It was an event. My father
also enjoyed hockey when hockey was still a sport. Sport
was an entertainment only and taken as such. The arts were
special - something that fed the soul - and essential. One
could do without hockey for one night, but to miss Tebaldi
Mr. Lavin knows his audience. Creativity
is a lonely thing and certainly does not need some dim wit
asking "how do you feel ....etc." That's for baseball
players who really believe that when their little pinkey
is dislocated the whole world must stop and take note .
And that is were you get 24-pages of banality.
Say "ballet" to the 24-pagers - the response would be most
interesting. That Mr Lavin would rather see a good play
than a football game borders on high treason. But it does
show there is some hope for him yet.
TOO MUCH BOOK LEARNIN'?
Chris Lavin has given us a lot to
consider, and for this I thank him.
As a freelance writer who contributes
stories on classical music to The Globe and Mail in Toronto,
I'm sympathetic to his criticism of "review-centric" arts
Too often reviewers indulge in a
kind of plumage display of expertise, dwelling on the minutiae
of performance: "The strings fell slightly behind the beat
in the Adagio, and brass section was too loud in the Finale."
So what? There are bigger and broader issues out there,
and writers who engagingly address larger issues do their
art forms (and their readers) a service.
And like Mr. Lavin, I've always
found the notion that writers should keep a distance from
their beats in order to "preserve their objectivity" a little
too convenient. The whole story is rarely found in press
releases - the closer the contact with artists, the closer
arts writers get to the truth. As well, I like his comparison
of arts groups to "a cross between the Kremlin and the Vatican."
It's only too true.
So why does the editor from San
Diego make me nervous?
Maybe it's because he appears to
distrust expertise - at least in the arts. Presumably he
believes that a sports writer should know all about the
nickel defense and the three-deep zone, whatever on Earth
they are. But arts writers are suspect if they know more
than the average reader - or perhaps more than their editors.
(By the way, Chris, the word is "playwright," not "play
write.") His idea of the perfect arts journalist seems to
be someone who approaches theatre, jazz or visual art with
equal indifference, and not too much book-learnin'.
I care deeply about classical music;
I have dedicated my life to it, and I feel that my commitment
is an essential driving force behind my work. I would not
write about dance: there are thousands of people in my city
who know and care more about it than I do. The gig rightfully
belongs to them.
It scares me to think there are
editors who consider expertise and commitment on the part
of their writers as "a barrier to the range of what they
can easily take on."
Lighten up people. Why does writing
about the arts have to be so serious? Certainly sports writing
can be serious - with all that money, the stakes are so
high - but a good sports columnist conveys his passion and
sense of fun about the enterprise. And he writes for people
who are serious in their passions.
So much arts criticism has dumbed
down to rote accounts or unsophisticated blather that turns
off anyone who knows anything and bores everybody else.
Critics so often take themselves
so seriously they're hard to take seriously. And where's
the sense of proportion? I don't really care how many notes
so-and-so missed. Tell me about how the artist is engaging
with an idea. If you can't make writing about creativity
fun, you ought to be doing something else.
New South Wales
Lavin makes several excellent points:
there's much more to arts coverage than the performance
review, and arts writers in general could do better at conveying
the sheer thrill of art; but as far as the analogy to sportswriting
is concerned, I think Lavin has it exactly backward.
Sports writers do not write for
"a broad audience" - they are allowed to assume that their
readers are knowledgeable about sports, and to write accordingly,
including in-depth analysis and technical terms. Arts writers
are not allowed to assume this.
Tell sportswriters to aim their
football coverage at someone who knows nothing about football
- because to write only for football fans would be inaccessible
and insidery and elitist - and see what the reaction is.
Classical music writer
Sports are seasonal. Arts - and there
are many of them - are year-round. There are sports that
can be seen on TV. How many plays, musicals, opera, art
exhibits etc can be viewed on TV on a daily basis?
LIKE A MAN
According to a year 2000 survey
of 37,0000 newspaper readers and nonreaders nationwide,
conducted by the Readership Institute at the Media Management
Center at Northwestern, men and women read newspapers in
roughly equal numbers. Men, not surprisingly, spend more
time with the sports section. Women spend more time with
the Sunday arts and entertainment sections.
Catalyst, a nonprofit research and
advisory organization working to advance women in business
and the professions, surveyed the Fortune 500s in the year
2000. Among the publishing companies surveyed were Gannett,
Knight-Ridder, Times Mirror and the New York Times. The
finding was that in the publishing industry, women account
for just 18 percent of board members and a mere 25 percent
of top executives.
Mr. Lavin, with men being the big
readers of sports coverage and 75 percent of the senior
decisionmakers in our business being male, I would suggest
to you that the shrinking of arts coverage is not a bad
writing thing. It's a guy thing.
The Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
Lavin's article should be required reading by artistic directors,
managing directors and press directors at every not-for-profit
theater in the country. Not that I agree with everything
he says (since many features editors have told me that arts
coverage is limited by a shrinking news hole for features
in general), but because his clearly and provocatively stated
ideas address the great danger that most theaters have already
fallen prey to: speaking only to "ourselves," namely the
people who are so dedicated to the arts that they can't
understand an "outsider's" point of view. I'll be e-mailing
this article to a lot of people.
Eugene O'Neill Theater Center