Douglas McLennan: October 2008 Archives
John English sends along the sad news:
Gerald T. "Jerry" Horton, the founder of the National Arts Journalism Program, died Oct. 29th in Jacksonville, Florida, where he was living in retirement. An Atlanta native and Harvard graduate ('56), Horton had a diverse career including serving 11 years in the Georgia legislature, chairman of Ogilvy & Mather Public Relations in New York and a consultant with the Coca-Cola Foundation, the Asia Society and AT&T On Stage.
Working with the Pew Charitable Trusts in Philadelphia, in 1992 he created the National Arts Journalism Program at four universities: Columbia, Northwestern, University of Southern California and The University of Georgia. He was also a business college professor at UGA and later at the University of Florida, teaching non-profit management and executive training courses.
"Horton had prodigious energy, great ideas for big projects and the fund-raising skills to make them happen," observed UGA professor emeritus John W. English, who worked with Horton on the NAJP. "His expertise in corporate philanthropy certainly made a difference for regional theatre."
Horton's passions were the arts, especially theatre, reading and fishing. His American folk art collection is currently touring museums in North Florida. Horton is survived by his wife, Kathryn Birmingham, and three adult children from a previous marriage.
He's writing in reaction to other recent pieces pointing the blame elsewhere, but even as he slams Paul Farhi's analysis as little more than apologia, he himself over-simplifies his argument by about half. The failure of newspapers is a massive failure of business rather than a failure of journalism. Newspaper readership has gone up substantially in the past decade, as the internet took hold. It's rare that innovation in an industry actually comes from inside that industry. Still, it a was business decision not to plow some of those over-sized profits into reinventing news. Even now, after waves of layoffs, average newspaper profits are above 20 percent. Are you kidding me?
The fall of journalism is, indeed, journalists' fault.
It is our fault that we did not see the change coming soon enough and ready our craft for the transition. It is our fault that we did not see and exploit -- hell, we resisted -- all the opportunities new media and new relationships with the public presented. It is our fault that we did not give adequate stewardship to journalism and left the business to the business people. It is our fault that we lost readers and squandered trust. It is our fault that we sat back and expected to be supported in the manner to which we had become accustomed by some unknown princely patron. Responsibility and blame are indeed ours.
Jeff is entirely right when he talks about the failure of imagination within the news industry when it came to the internet:
The internet does not just present a few glittery toys. It presents the circumstances to change our relationship with the public, to work collaboratively in networks, to find new efficiencieslink, to rethink how we cover and present news. No, the essence of the problem is that we thought the internet represented just a new gadget and not a fundamental change in society, the economy, and thus journalism.Unfortunately, one has only to look at the average newspaper website to understand just how true it is.
There were eight categories, split into two age groups: under 14 and 14-18. Most of you wanted to write about film, music and theatre; fewer tackled architecture, classical music and dance. But we were impressed with how you engaged with every genre, whether telling us why the Canary Wharf tower would never fit into a New York skyline, or finding shades of Andrew Lloyd Webber in a Karl Jenkins composition.Artists and some of the newspaper's critics read the entries and chose the best:
What did we learn? That first and last lines are hard, however old you are. That "incredible" and "amazing" are a dead end when it comes to getting to the heart of what makes something wonderful. That the best reviews aren't always the most polished: wherever you had fun, we had fun, too. All winners receive a £25 National Book Token and a Guardian Young Arts Critics certificate. Choosing an overall winner was tough. In the end, we agreed on Tim Davies, visual art winner, because, said our judge Alan Davey, head of Arts Council England, "he caught perfectly the intriguing weirdness" of the boating lake. Thirteen-year-old Robert Hardy was a close second, for making Davey "want to hear 50s blues-rock zombie music and imagine a dying werewolf's growls".Amid the gloom about how critics are disappearing from newspapers, when was the last time we've seen somebody celebrate the best of young critics?
A lot of factors coalesced at the very last minute. In September, the president/publisher of the Chronicle announced he would eliminate 80 jobs through buyouts and layoffs. After much hemming and hawing, and conversations with friends and family. I decided to apply Tuesday for the buyout. I heard this afternoon that my request was approved.
Initially I will try recover from the separation, get much needed rest, start crafting a life after the multifurcated schedule I've kept for 33 ¾ years (I started at the Chronicle on Dec. 30, 1974), and taking a delayed trip to Germany. Thanks to everyone who have provided a varied, intriguing and often illuminating classical music scene in Houston. I do plan to continue to enjoy it. Sincerely, Charles Ward
Tom Bernard, the veteran co-head of Sony Pictures Classics, has a theory about critics. He believes when critics in key communities are fired by their penny-pinching newspapers, it's the movies that suffer - especially art movies. He feels he can statistically demonstrate that filmgoers learn to trust certain local critics and that, when they leave, box office sags.
- from Variety
Maybe that's true. Newspapers have cut more movie and TV critics in the past couple of years than any other critics. The thinking, of course, is that movies and TV are not geo-specific and that wire copy can be a cheaper substitute. Movie critic Marshall Fine, who has set up his own movie blog after a long career in print journalism, adds his voice:
Many newspapers now seem to believe that journalism is simply a consumer guide. If it is, then one report can substitute for another, and maybe no one will notice. It isn't just happening with arts journalism. In the past several years, foreign bureaus have been closed, investigative units have been off-loaded, and generic wire copy has come to occupy more and more of the local and regional newspaper. Coverage of state government has dwindled as papers eliminate their state bureaus. At a time when we've seen first-hand the damage that can be caused when the press backs off, we're cutting back even more.
These misguided newspaper organizations (and, increasingly, magazines) have decided that the way to recoup is to get rid of us critics and those lavish salaries we're all pulling down. The wrong-headed thinking goes something like this:
"Well, sure, we have someone who is in touch with the local community, whose critical voice they've come to recognize and understand. But really--isn't one movie review pretty much like another? Can't we spend our money on something more important and simply fill that movie-critic void with syndicated reviews off the wire services?"
That approach misses the point that one critic isn't the same as another; we aren't interchangeable. Readers rely on specific critics whose work they trust and whose taste they understand.Unfortunately, too many outlets regard critics as mere consumer guides. At our best, we're part of the conversation, a mediator/interpreter between the artist who creates the movie and the audience that sees it... There are fewer and fewer places to find serious reviews in print. And fewer still where the most important graphic element isn't either a star rating, a letter grade or a thumbs-up/down kind of symbol.
Here's the problem for news organizations. Generic news doesn't build readership loyalty. There are too many ways to get information now, and the fewer reasons you give readers to come for your unique version of the news, the fewer readers you'll have. Readers do notice when coverage gets genericized, and when news is made generic, it changes the kinds of readers you attract.
Though the arts don't generate a lot of ad dollars, there isn't an arts marketing manager out there right now who's not wondering why they shouldn't stop advertising in their local paper when the coverage dumbs down or dries up.
The most lucrative arts advertising is movie ads. If Sony is noticing a hit to its business when newspapers dump their critics, how long do you suppose it'll be before the movies ditch newspapers too? If the local department store or car dealership notice a drop in effectiveness of their ads when the political columnist or popular TV critic goes, they'll follow too. A classic death spiral.