Crisis in American newspaper arts coverage

The Rest is Noise alerted me to a recent Wall Street Journal column by About Last Night blogger Terry Teachout. He writes:

“We’re the last generation of newspaper critics, you know,” a New York drama critic told me the other day. “After us, everybody will be online.” Forecasts of Apocalypse Tomorrow usually turn out to have been exaggerated, but this one is looking more plausible than most. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently dropped its book-review section (though it continues to run reviews). So many other papers have cut back on the space they devote to books that the National Book Critics Circle has launched a “Campaign to Save the Book Review.” Several major newspapers, including the Chicago Sun-Times and Minneapolis Star-Tribune, no longer have full-time classical music critics. And regional movie critics, like stand-alone newspaper book sections, are fast becoming an endangered species.

What’s going on? The answer is painfully simple. Newspaper circulation is declining, driven downward by the rise of the new Web-based media, and many papers are trimming their staffs to make ends meet. Whenever times get tough at an American newspaper, fine-arts coverage gets thrown off the back of the sled first — and that’s what’s happening now.

Not surprisingly, critics and arts advocates are up in arms over the latest wave of cutbacks, and some of them seem to think that amateur artbloggers, who post their opinions for free on the Web instead of publishing them for money on paper, are part of the problem.

Richard Schickel, Time’s film critic, actually published a testy op-ed in the Los Angeles Times in which he compared blogging to “finger-painting”: “I don’t think it’s impossible for bloggers to write intelligent reviews. I do think, however, that a simple ‘love’ of reading (or movie-going or whatever) is an insufficient qualification for the job. . . . we have to find in the work of reviewers something more than idle opinion-mongering. We need to see something other than flash, egotism and self-importance. We need to see their credentials. And they need to prove, not merely assert, their right to an opinion.”

Finger-painting, huh? I wonder if Richard Schickel has ever taken a serious look at the credentials (or lack thereof) of most arts critics at major media outlets. Most critics fall backwards into the field, often with little formal training either in their “specific area of expertise “or in journalism in general.

Journalism will never disappear, but the distribution platform will continue to evolve, and dinosaurs like Richard Schickel can sink or swim. Every few months I see another article about the Tribune Company (parent of many major national newspapers) enacting another round of job cuts.

Would you tie your horse to the ever-consolidating world of print media, with round after round of layoffs, or in the exponentially growing and fast-paced world of online journalism, with its multimedia possibilities and worldwide reach?

Terry Teachout has the right orientation, continuing:

Speaking as a veteran newspaper critic who started a blog four years ago, I suspect that Mr. Schickel hasn’t looked at very many artblogs. I, on the other hand, read dozens of them each week. In fact, I now spend more time reading art-related blog postings than print-media reviews. Increasingly, they’re sharper, livelier and timelier than their old-media competition.

If you’d like to read the rest of this extremely insightful article, you’d better click here–and quickly. Old media giants like the Wall Street Journal restrict access to their content after a short period of time (if fact, one usually can’t read the Journal online at all without paying).

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2 thoughts on “Crisis in American newspaper arts coverage

  1. Joshua Nemith

    What a pretentious and pompous attitude Schickel has! Credentials? Well, I guess those of us who actually practice our art form and then try to share informed opinions outside the usually limited paradigms of “established” criticism don’t count in his book. I suspect the real reason for this is that the old-guard elitists are no longer steering the boat 24/7. People in Schickel’s position are feeling threatened, and rightly so. But his overtly negative approach doesn’t make sense to me. You can’t punch a hole in a tsunami (which is what the arts blogosphere is becoming day after day).

    Thanks for posting this Jason — and I, for one, agree with Teachout’s assertion that arts-related blog postings can be more energetic and meaningful than traditional media articles. Schickel should do some wider reading before he trods on his up-and-coming colleagues. They’re nipping at his heels…

  2. Pingback: Struts and Frets: Kris Joseph» Caveat embargo

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