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Arts journos disappearing

27 Jul 2010
Posted by Shannon

The San Francisco arts blog Lies Like Truth notes that as news outlets cut budgets, arts journalism has turned into a career like acting, dancing, or painting – you have to spend a lot of time waiting tables in order to be a theatre critic.

While I’m all for arts journalist Chloe Veltman’s argument that cultural commentators working in this climate should be eligible for arts grants, I think her observation that if they’re not covering classical music they must be doing odd jobs, inadvertently hits on the real problem. Arts journos have long been seen as expendable in newsrooms because so many aren’t journalists at all – real journalists can always change beats. The arts writers who can no longer get work are the arts insiders who were only looking for a way to publicize themselves and their cronies.

News outlets themselves have blurred the distinction between public relations and news to such an extent that many of us have forgotten there used to be a difference between journalism and propaganda. To be clear, journalism is news-gathering done on behalf of citizens, and it’s done in the public interest – it’s not a promotion to serve special interest groups. That’s called PR.

And that’s why most arts writing is a bore to read --  like other PR, it’s self-serving. These scribes rarely write with any wit or insight because they’re in a conflict-of-interest.  And it breaks the good faith deal newspapers once had with readers that reporters would write on behalf of the public. Of course, that went the way of the dodo some decades ago when advertiser-driven copy in the form of “business supplements” and “special advertising features” began replacing journalism, but you see my point. 

The decline in the quality of journalism that is now obvious in every section of Canadian daily newspapers -- the shallow, sloppy reporting, the self-serving commentary, and the bland corporate newsletter style of writing – has been progressing for decades, but it began in the arts section.

If arts-writers-cum-publicists are casualties of the decline of news outlets, I’m inclined to think that, like the media that used to hire them, they brought it on themselves. If you ignore the interests of your audience long enough, eventually you’ll find you no longer have one.