Wednesday 23 July 2014

Whither arts journalism?

On the long list of 'debates that will never be resolved', one item that gets the go-around treatment frequently is 'has the internet killed arts journalism/reviewing?'

A recent article that focuses on New Jersey led me to two newish models of funding arts reporting.

In one, the MinnPost - a "nonprofit, nonpartisan enterprise whose mission is to provide high-quality journalism for news-intense people who care about Minnesota", staffed by professional journalists - recently completed a $10K crowdfunding effort to expand their arts reporting

In another, the News & Record of Greenboro N.C. took $15K to fund arts reporting from a non-profit advocates for the arts and distributes funding.  

MinnPost's business model is based on sponsors, advertisers and donors. Crowdfunding to support extra arts reporting seems consistent with that model: donate to buy more of what you want to read. The agreement between News & Record and the non-profit states that the paper "shall have complete independence and discretion", while the non-profit is also clear that reporting is more authentic than paid advertising and therefore more compelling to cultural consumers.

That first article I linked to above paints both these acts as 'desperate' and states that both "[challenge] journalistic ethics to the max".

In New Zealand we suffer for a paucity of paid opportunities for professional arts journalists and reviewers. This problem is not going away. Most people who write, report or comment on the arts are doing it as part of a range of paying-the-bills activities, because as a full-time job it's just not feasible.

We've talked about this a lot in terms of what that means for the writer/commentator (it's difficultly, for example, to write negative reviews when (a) there's so little opportunity to publish that you want to be positive when you do get airtime and (b) you also need to keep friends in the industry) and the artist (who isn't getting good critical feedback, or the coverage needed to develop a career). But what does it mean for our ability to keep existing audiences and develop news ones, if arts coverage keeps dwindling in amount and quality?

People can't be interested in what they never hear about. Newspapers, magazines, radio and tv (on and off-line) are still the best places to raise awareness and create interest. If getting our stories in there means having a debate about what it means for ethics if we look at sources other than old-school paid advertising to get airtime, then count me in. 

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