Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The coming crush in arts journalism

The news is dismal for the dead-tree media. The Christian Science Monitor is cutting back to just a weekend edition. Time, Inc. is reducing its staff by 600. Revenues at the New York Times and Washington Post are dropping. The Los Angeles Times just announced a new round of cuts - it soon will have one-half the staff it had seven years ago.

I can feel the difference in my own e-box. It used to be that I had to seek out tickets to arts events that caught my eye; now, they come to me. Sometimes desperately. Publicity people have discovered my personal and work emails, even my home and cell phone numbers. Alas, this does them little good - I'm already working at capacity. So to all of you whose press releases I haven't responded to - sorry, but I just haven't had the time; I barely have time to think through and type up my reviews and posts!

What they and I understand, of course, is that very soon the local print media will be cutting back arts coverage even further. The Globe, for all its flaws, has hung onto an "official" critic for each of the performing arts, as well as two film critics. But seriously, how much longer can that last? I'd be surprised if the current situation is tenable for more than a year, especially given that the recession is going to cut into two of the print media's remaining revenue streams - real estate and car ads.

So - can bloggers take up the slack? In a word, no. I do this for free, essentially (those Google ads maybe brought in $50 last year). I'm dedicated to it, and right now there's no reason I can't continue at my current level, but I could never take on actual reporting responsibilities in addition to my reviewing. I may have been able to tell that the Matter Pollocks weren't genuine just by looking at them, and I may have caught the scent of trouble at CitiCenter before it was reported, but I never would have had the time to actually dig into those stories the way the Globe's Geoff Edgers did. Indeed, I don't want to, not really.

And as far as I know, no one else on the Web wants to, either. Which poses something of a dilemma. In a word, the Web is killing its own golden goose - it's removing the economic basis of the medium which actually supplies it with most of its material. (I mean, what am I going to do without Louise Kennedy to kick around?) As the New York Times reported, Google's CEO, Eric Schmidt, recently worried aloud that with the death of the print media, the blogosphere would quickly devolve into 'a "cesspool" of useless information.' Yes, the CEO of Google said that.

Is he right? Maybe. What I do know is that what the arts community needs most from the print media is its ability to do investigative journalism. Opinions can be left to the blogs - indeed, the Globe could probably set up a few critical blogs - or even a whole matrix of blogs - from creditable writers who would write for free, or nearly free. Yes, criticism in the smaller markets is going to come down to whoever is willing to do it for free.

But if they have to start cutting jobs, there's only two at the arts desk they have to hold onto: the listings guy, and Geoff Edgers.

1 comment:

  1. What the blogosphere has been able to do in some cases is apply slight pressure and create a little noise until the mainstream press gets involved.

    Probably one of the most prominent examples in the theatre blogosphere was the Rachel Corrie affair with the New York Theatre Workshop.

    The bloggers raised an online clamour substantial enough to get the NYTimes involved. At which point, the organization had to answer some questions.

    But you are quite right. Without a powerful enough megaphone, investigative journalism becomes toothless.

    Hubreview or Mirror up to Nature could leave hundreds of unreturned phone messages and e-mails throughout the Citi organization. But if the Globe calls and leaves a message that they are working on a story regarding XYZ, the organization may not call back, but at least they have to consider their options.