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July 23, 2010

One Across the Bow

What's the word in Neo-Esperanto for somebody who's a schmuck, ingrate, lightning rod, traitor, party-pooper, egoist, troublemaker, and whiner all rolled into one? Find it, somebody, and apply it to me because here goes:

Something, it seems to me, is seriously wrong with NAJP.

My misgivings began with the reaction--or rather, non-reaction--to John Rockwell's original "castles in the air" rumination on our organization's creating some kind of publication, with an online magazine shaking out as the best bet. But hardly anybody chimed in, let alone did a Mickey-Rooney-movie "Hey, my dad owns an old theater, and we could all..." I wrote of couple of follow posts on roughly the same subject and volunteered, in a comment, to contribute a few pro bono services to the publication, if and when. All I got for my trouble was a sarcastic comment from a Pacific Northwesterner implying that I was simply trying to reinforce the Eastern Seaboard's putative stranglehold on arts coverage. Wow, I thought, if a big idea tree (Rockwell's, not mine) falls in woods filled with an animal club whose members supposedly can use the lumber to fashion all kinds of wonderful things and there's little reaction, did it make any noise? Is there really an animal club? Are there really animals? Are the animals alive or dead?

OK, I thought, so maybe its own publication isn't what NAJP should be doing. After all, it's got this "ARTicles" blog. Isn't that about the same thing? I'm not privy to the stats about "hits," so perhaps the number of comments aren't an index to what kind of engaged readership the blog really has. But "ARTicles," while publicly available, is by, and primarily for, the NAJP membership. Which is a bunch of arts journalists--whose profession, in terms of being professional, i.e., getting paid for writing arts journalism, is shrinking by the minute. (As of this writing, the eighth post down from the top on "ARTicles" concerns the Orange County Register eliminating its arts blog. Not just costly space on the printed page, but its arts BLOG!) You'd think that comments--other art writers on art posts, other dance writers on dance posts, other opera writers on opera posts, and so on--would come fast and furiously. Well, as of this writing the comments on the first screen of posts number zero, zero, zero, one, two, zero, one, zero, zero, zero, zero, zero, one, zero, 24 (much respect to Mr. Christgau!), four, zero, zero, two. Reasonable conclusion: Save for fans of a consumer guide to pop music, nobody gives a tinker's damn about arts journalism.

"ARTicles" is not, of course, the whole of the NAJP. We allegedly work to "advocate for arts reporting and criticism, improve the quality and increase the quanity of arts journalism, inform the public and the media industry of standards of excellence in arts journalism, support and mentor arts journalists, provide a network for arts journalist in all disciplines," and "help develop standards and viable economic models for arts journalism in emerging digital media." We do this, our website says, through fellowships, events, publications and resources.

Alas, we don't have any money for fellowships (not our fault; in fact it's one of the reasons for this reconstituted NAJP). We don't do events (again, money; but all "events" don't have to be big and/or sponsored." Anyway, the "Check back here for current events" on the ever-empty "Events" page is an embarrassment.) We don't do publications (the most recent one on the website, "The New Gatekeepers: Emerging Challenges to Free Expression in the Arts," comes out of a conference held way back in 2002). "Resources" consists of links to some research websites. That's a minor IT one-and-done.

Oh, there is another item, "Calendar." But all it contains is a wistful seasonal agenda with no particular year imprinted upon it: "Summer - recruiting members; Fall - build & launch of new NAJP virtual network; Winter - new programs launch." I've no idea whether this is all hot stuff, on the front burner, or long-abandoned wishful thinking. And the reason I have no idea is because I, as a member of NAJP, don't get any info. I get zilch official communications from NAJP. While I think I'm still on the committee that vettes membership applications, it's been a long time since I was asked to peruse clips that substantiate whether an applicant is a real arts journalist or not. And there hasn't been anything posted under the website's "News" heading since July 31, 2007. In short, about the only thing the NAJP seems to do is run the "ARTicles" blogsite and partner in some attenuated way with the NEA's institutes on classical music, theater and dance.

Finally, my most recent post on Rockwell's "castles," the semi-intemperate "[Insert Nike Slogan Here]," asked for a board motion, to be voted up or down, on seriously studying the feasibility of an NAJP publication. It ended with the cliché that the ball was in the board's court. I was told that a board meeting was to occur within the week after the post. It's been two weeks now since the post and I--and as far as I know anybody else--have heard nothing. OK, maybe there hasn't been a board meeting. Yeah, maybe there has NEVER been a board meeting; I've never seen the minutes of one. (Oops! Getting a little bitter here. Better get off this track.)

My point is that NAJP seems to be, if not an organization dead in the water, at least a rusty, barely seaworthy tramp freighter out of an Alan Furst novel. If I'm wrong, and there's a whole bunch of NAJP big doin's I don't know about, I stand corrected. (I won't apologize for being ignorant of them, because t'weren't I who kept me uninformed.) To the foreseeable charge of airing dirty linen in public: a) "ARTicles," as I understand it, exists not just for the purpose of publishing arts journalism per se, but for members to have a back-and-forth about "issues" in arts journalism. To me, the direction of the NAJP itself is an issue. And, of course, b) I'm only doing what journalists are supposed to do, which is writing about something I think needs being written about.

After this post, though, I'm going to crawl back into my art critic's hole (did I pre-empt that one?) and content myself with occasionally posting about the peculiarities of contemporary art. (Unless the unlikely event occurs that somebody in NAJP actually issues a call to get together--electronically or otherwise--and DO SOMETHING.)

I hope this overlong complaint gets a reaction, starts a discussion, etc. And, if reaction is to come from a fellow "ARTicles" blogger, a perhaps un-needed reminder: A post is a lot more visible than a comment. But all comments on this post will, however excoriating, be accepted and published. I've seen quite enough zeros, thank you.

July 23, 2010 8:10 AM | | Comments (7)


Seriously, for an art blog there is not much art shown. Maybe some pictures would help. Best of luck.

Yeah, pictures would help. But that's just a start toward "how to" write in the new medium.

Arts journalists are mostly old print dogs. But unfortunately the digital medium is not merely the new trick the old dogs can't learn; it's the new paradigm that has no audience for a repertoire of old tricks.

I'm going to share this on my Facebook page and see if anybody responds....

The problem is that it takes huge energy to get the ball rolling, and most arts journalists are expending a lot of energy keeping other balls rolling. I can think off the top of my head of five different proposals or plans for websites that will further the cause of keeping arts journalism alive on a national level; I bet there are dozens more out there, in various stages of development.

Some replies:

To "Art Trip": Yep, you're right. Although "ARTicles" is an arts (with the "s") blogsite and not about only art, pictures of/from performances, films and works of art do pep things up considerably.

To "Nick": The blanket condemnation of "old print dogs" being allegedly unable to contend with the "new paradigm" of digital media is simplistic, untrue and a bit jejeune.* It's also unintentionally ironic, coming as it does from the proprietor of a website more or less devoted to a really old-dog paradigm: live theater. As to the quality of the discourse on that website, readers should go to "" and sample for themselves *"Rat Sass: Back Talk 'N Beer with a Bite."

To Ann Powers: Thanks.

To Anne Midgette: True, but we're the NAJP--the NATIONAL Arts Journalism PROGRAM. If we, with all our writers and bloggers in the membership, have any cred at all, can't we at least do an online publication? I mean, what else do we actually do? (Again, this isn't my hobby horse. John Rockwell proposed it, and I merely volunteered. The rest has been almost deafening silence.)

Peter: I submit that one reason for the deafening silence is that professional arts writers know well how much more there is to creating a magazine than just writing and blogging. Someone has to run it, pay for it, design a functioning website, figure out who writes what when, etc. And few of NAJP's members are eager to write for free.

The Music Critics Association of North America is working on starting just such a publication, and it's taking months and a huge investment of time and effort on the part of a few very dedicated members.

I am one of the many who have not been good about reading this blog on a regular basis and responding. Like many others I'm only semi-employed right now, piecing an income together, putting out an arts magazine (on paper! with no pay!), trying to find a full-time job.
I was invited to be a regular blogger on the site and appreciated that, but just didn't have the time to do it. I offered to do a piece for the blog about finding one's place and how to do it without compromising too much and falling into a bunch of conflicts of interest, but I don't even have time for that.
My long-standing concern about NAJP is that there was this core of pure critics who seemed to dominate the group and then the rest of us, the unwashed masses who did it all. It has been like two organizations with members whose lives methods of work don't really overlap much.
But when people like me - out the provinces - don't contribute to the dialogue, well then the lack of dialogue is my fault.
In the meantime, anyone know where I can get a job?

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