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January 5, 2009

State of the Art

A recent story in City Arts Seattle, lamenting cuts in the number of arts critics at the Seattle Times is almost elegiac, suggesting that if the arts don't get covered in the local paper, it's almost as if they didn't exist. An art show, writer Emily White says, "is news because a critic noticed it. When the critics are no longer there to discover art, who will call attention to it?"

I'm sorry, but this seems dopey me. Perhaps for a certain kind of audience, art isn't news unless the newspaper covers it, but with so many many ways for artists to get the word out about their work these days, getting the word out is not more of a problem than it ever was.

White also repeats an oft-expressed complaint of arts writers about priorities of news organizations:

As the meltdown continues, certain values become clear: the most basic of these is that breaking news is more important than anything else. This breaking-news panic is a product of Blogosphere Fear - terror that the blogs will get the story before the newspaper gets it. And since most newsrooms operate under the unexamined, cultlike belief that sports coverage must be preserved, arts coverage is what's targeted for elimination. The logic goes something like this: How many people go to all these little plays anyway? How does someone looking at paintings translate into web hits, dollars, an economic stimulus?

Have you looked at sports coverage in daily papers lately? a shadow of what it once was. Online media and cable TV have eaten the newspapers' lunch. Even local TV news, which once devoted major real estate to sports coverage, now puts up little better than a token effort. Yet sports fans can get more news about their teams than ever before.

Actually, I think when the new media landscape shakes out and a new business model gets established, arts journalism is going to do fine. There actually is an audience for it when it's done well. The arts audience is huge, and there is a reason

What's scarier, though, is coverage of less glamorous news. Coverage of City Hall and State Houses is time consuming and not very sexy. And as traditional news organizations have cut back their resources in recent years, coverage of government has declined. This report illustrates the cuts in stark terms in Washington State:

During the past 15 years, the state population has increased by 25 percent and the amount of tax money spent by the state has more than doubled. Yet the number of print, television and radio journalists covering the state Legislature full time has dropped by about 70 percent.

It is a long-term trend that accelerated this decade and finally fell off a cliff this year because of plunging advertising revenue in face of the recession and a changing media landscape.

In 1993, there were 34 journalists covering the Washington state Legislature. By 2007, there were 17. This year, there may be as few as 10 full-time journalists, mostly newspaper reporters.

January 5, 2009 11:17 AM | | Comments (0)

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