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July 8, 2009

WSJ Culture Section Would Fill a Void in New York

The New York Observer reports that The Wall Street Journal is developing a New York-only culture section, an addition to the paper that would aim (as all such efforts here do) to give The New York Times a run for its money. It would also fill a void that opened when The New York Sun folded last fall, its always-iffy financial health finally failing with the economy.

From the Observer:

Several Journal sources have confirmed to Off the Record that a weekly New York-only arts-and-culture section is in the planning stages up at The Journal's new Sixth Avenue headquarters. It's early yet, but in the very near future, a budget will be drafted for the product, an indication that the effort is a serious one. The new section could be introduced into the newspaper early next year, according to our sources.

"It'll be arts-and-culture-oriented," said one staffer, describing the new plan. "The ad side thought they could sell ads on a local New York basis, given the Broadway scene and the arts scene overall."

Arts coverage always does sell ads -- a point that's consistently lost on newspapers, where sports sections that bring in very, very little revenue are staffed to the gills, while arts staffs are skeletal. One of the bizarre joys of working at the Sun, where I was deputy cultural editor, was that the culture staff positively dwarfed the sports staff. Likewise our page counts. This was a huge change from my experience as arts editor at the New Haven Register in Connecticut, a state with zero major professional sports teams and an abundance of nationally known theater. I was the sole arts staffer, yet the paper employed scads of reporters to cover the minor leagues and kids' sports. Thus my glee at working for the Sun, the only paper I knew where the arts and sports roles were reversed. Also the only paper I knew that put an arts story on page 1 every day.

Part of what's interesting in the Journal's plan is the focus on New York. Like the Times, it's a national paper, but it sees a local opportunity and appears willing to seize it. No question, there's plenty of room for arts journalism in this city, and there are plenty of smart readers hungry for professional coverage. The city still has three dailies, as well as Newsday on Long Island, but attention to the arts is minimal, and even the Times is squeezed now. What's particularly scarce is reporting on the arts -- something bloggers generally can't do, because reporting requires the kind of money, time and access that people writing for free tend not to have. Meanwhile, there's a surfeit of opining out there, however sloppy and far removed from true criticism much of it is, so that ought not to be the priority as the Journal formulates its section.

The biggest need is in filling the watchdog role on the cultural beat: reporting real news about New York City arts. Meeting that need is a job the Times can't, and shouldn't, do alone.
July 8, 2009 9:24 AM | | Comments (1)

1 Comments


The Wall Street Journal is a great paper, and it's wonderful to think that it's unique audience will be given a greater knowledge of the arts, as that audience involves people of power and resources (whose values are also influential).

I think, however, that it is important to discuss standards of journalism and criticism, whether one is discussing print or online journalism. Standards and values are what determine quality and shape culture, not whether the work appears in print or online; and that fact is sometimes lost as many fear the demise of print publications. Obviously, the more rigorous standards are, the more standards are maintained, the less likely it is that bad work will be supported, wherever it appears, in print or online.

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