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July 13, 2009

NAJP Stirs To Life: So What's Next for Arts Journalism? (A Contest with Prizes)

summitpage.jpgSince NAJP closed its doors at Columbia University in 2005, we've struggled to find a way to continue the organization in a significant way. It's been tough. There's been no money to support arts journalism, let alone an organization that's trying to support arts journalism. When we made the rounds of funders as the program was closing at Columbia and in the year after, we tried to make the case that arts journalism as we have known it was undergoing fundamental change. Our position was that arts journalism wasn't going to go away, but that its successful reinvention would require thoughtful attention. Without investment in the next new thing, the new baseline might be the lowest common denominator.

What seemed like hyperbole even two years ago about how radical the changes in our field would be has become fact. Traditional arts journalism is unraveling, and more than half of all staff arts journalism jobs have been lost. Materially, the amount of arts coverage on the pages of the nation's newspapers has noticeably diminished, accelerating in the past six months. There's no NAJP Reporting the Arts III to confirm it, but as the editor of ArtsJournal.com, I can report that in the past two months the drop-off nationwide has become harder and harder to ignore.

At my blog diacritical I wrote earlier this week about some of the reasons I think traditional arts journalism is in decline, so I won't go into it again here. There's no use in sitting around lamenting this. What's coming next? I still believe, as I did when we were out trying to raise money for NAJP, that arts journalism has a bright future; I actually think its best days are ahead.

What will that future be? We want to see if there's the beginning of an answer. So we're helping to organize a one day National Summit on Arts Journalism on October 2 at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California. Here's the setup: we want to find ten projects in arts journalism that we hope offer promise as new models for sustainable arts journalism. That's sustainable as in a way that supports imaginative arts coverage and the journalists who make it happen.

Five of the projects will be chosen through an online competition, and anyone can submit (please make sure you read the competition's FAQ before you decide whether you're eligible).

We're not looking for blogs, even if they're very cool blogs, unless they have a way of supporting themselves. There are 300,000 arts blogs out there, according to Technorati, so if you're pitching No. 300,001, it has to be a model that supports you. The point of this exercise is to find a new model, not just a cool blog.

Each of the five projects chosen by competition will get $2,000 and a representative of the project will be flown to Los Angeles to make a ten-minute presentation. The presentations will be streamed and archived for online viewing. We're organizing viewing parties all around the country (if you want to organize one, let me know at summitinfo@najp.org). Then, members of NAJP and alumni of the National Endowment for the Arts' Arts Journalism Institutes will be invited to vote on the best. First prize gets $7,500, second gets $5,000 and third gets $2,500. You can see entries already submitted here. 

Will we find the Next Big Thing out of this? Maybe not. But even if we don't, we'll draw a little attention to some good ideas, give people an idea of different ways journalists are trying to solve the arts journalism problem, and throw a little money at some worthwhile projects. It's a start.
July 13, 2009 3:47 PM | | Comments (0)

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    the National Arts Journalism Program, an association of some 500 journalists in the United States. Our group blog is a place for arts and cultural journalists to share ideas and information, to celebrate what we do, and to make the case for its continuing value. ARTicles is edited by Laura Collins-Hughes. To contact her, click here.
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