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June 2, 2010

Castle-building, step two

The comments appended to my initial "Castles in the Sky" posting are all worth reading. But here's another set of questions for the ARTicles readership:

Could anyone sketch out the basic original and subsequent business models for successful online general-interest publications like Slate, Salon, Huffington Post, Truthdig and the many others I'm not thinking of? How were they first capitalized? By a single endower or a consortium? How much annually do their endowments/investments spin off to support the publication? What's their current total budget? What additional kinds of earned income do they enjoy? How much are writers paid? And any other relevant questions I'm omitting. Having that kind of information in hand would make any approach to a deep-pocketed philanthropist a lot more grownup-sounding!

Me, I think I side with those commenters who think an online publication is more realistic than a print version. Perhaps, for print, we could generate an annual collection, with rotating editors, on the model of the "Best Music Writing of 200X" series. Entries to be drawn from our own online publication and/or from all over.
June 2, 2010 4:11 AM | | Comments (3)


One model we need to consider in evaluating all of those factors is ProPublica. What they're doing is not quite parallel to what we propose to do, but we can learn a great deal from them. We can also learn a lot from the Foundation Center.

As for print vs. the Internet, I, paddling in a backwater, will defer to those with dual-scag boards riding The Wave of the Future.

But nevertheless, a couple of considerations:

* The radical downsizing of the print universe isn't the only reason for the shriveling up of the opportunities to get paid--especially regularly--for working as arts journalists. Another is--and I guess I'll be the one saying it out loud while others than NAJP'ers are listening--the rampant egalitarianism of arts opinionating, especially on the Internet.

The inconvenient truth is that in order to get paid actual green money--instead of just the cheap thrill of seeing one's own words up on a screen for anybody to see--for opining on the arts, a writer has to have some kind of status ("cachet" if you want) going in. Print used to provide that, i.e., to have a byline on a page, a writer was presumed to have some expertise, to have gone through some kind of competition/vetting to have the privilege of being published. The Internet equivalent of that has yet, as far as I can see (and I read a bunch of blogs, aggregator sites, etc., every day), to appear convincingly.

Now I know there are idealists/rebels out there who think, with some justification, that the whole arts journalism scene should morph into something where every voice--indeed, every text--is equal out of the gate, where, to quote the old airline commercial, "We have to earn our wings every day." But no arts journalist really wants to live that way, and if we think we can, we might as well change the name of this organization to NEAJP--the National Everybody's an Arts Journalist Program.**

* How to "monetize" an Internet publication enough to, as a previous commenter said, pay your contributors adequately and promptly? Subscriptions? Micro-payments? Advertising (which, apparently just cannot furnish an adequate revenue flow)? Fund-raisers and premiums, online and off? (Thinking this is a must-answer question assumes, of course, that the publication ought to be for-profit. I do. I don't think we should be a foundation/philanthropist's arty poster child, and I think it's simply unbecoming for ostensibly professional arts journalists to be not-for-profit critics of mostly for-profit arts and artists.)

** This ain't self-interest. I'm an old camel and can just about live out my life off my hump. I really am thinking of the viability of the profession of arts journalist for people from their mid-20s on up. I don't want to see a critical universe composed entirely of people who man a phone line for an auto-insurance company during the day and then stay up late blogging, tweeting and Facebooking on the arts for free.

You know, I've been trying to find a way to make some kind of contribution except for being a blogger on this site that hasn't been able to blog and this idea really hits a nerve.

I live and work in Little Rock, Arkansas. Ever since I've been laid off from my newspaper job of 15 years (happened over a year ago), I've openly wondered whether an arts journal would work in Little Rock. You would likely be amazed at the creative activity in the largest city of this small state. I would relish the chance to expose the lack of arts coverage in the paper that let me go.

But in this past difficult year I have become burned out on various Castle in the Air schemes. I'm also a playwright -- it says so right on my MFA -- and writing plays is nothing but building dream houses on clouds. My wife and two kids are happy to hear about various projects but, in the end, it's about keeping the lights on.

Still, I so endorse this idea. And I only know Laura Collins-Hughes through her incisive writing and beyond generous e-mails, but it's not hard to figure out that she'd be a terrific editor. But there must be money. There must be money at the front and then advertisting money after that. Sure, that's easy for me to say. I just can't climb up any ladder to some potential paradise shrouded in fog.

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