Recently by Jeff Weinstein

NEA Fellows.jpg

Don't believe what you read, Romenesko and Roman Holiday notwithstanding. Look carefully at the smiling faces attached to the exhausted bodies above. These are this year's 23 USC Annenberg Fellows of the NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Theater and Musical Theater Program. (Plus Sasha and Doug. I, tears in my eyes, had just left the Los Angeles farewell breakfast.) The bad news about the operatic demise of arts journalism somehow had escaped them, and all of us:

"What do you mean? Of course people want to read about theater! Of course we want to write, blog, video, do anything to say why ..."

And the voices diverge, because they come from different geographical and personal places. But after 10 days in their presence -- and I spent every single day of the program with these dogged folks -- I had my caution handed to me on a Salome platter. These journalists worked and talked in an atmosphere of pure optimism. I was floored. How could this be?

I think it's because they possess a blunt faith in the art they go out every day and night to watch and then redact, refine, recreate. I'll tell you, as someone who has felt the same way for decades but was beginning to flag, this is a very welcome tonic. 

Sheer optimism, driven by love of art and effervescent talent. Exactly what we need. 

Just wanted you to know. 

Photo: Captain Freckels

April 25, 2009 11:10 PM | | Comments (0)

Apologies for my lengthy absence, though I have been reading you all.

In case anyone imagined that managers in our business are any different from those in finance or law enforcement, check out today's layoff memo from the editor-in-chief of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (via Romenesko, otherwise known as Our Dedicated Obit Site).

So warm, heart-felt.

My favorite phrase goes immediately into the Doublespeak Dictionary: "involuntary separation offer."

I've always imagined the grim reaper asking me if I'd care to join him.

March 25, 2009 9:49 AM | | Comments (0)
Hi Bob, the world of restaurant reviewing -- a nice corner of cultural journalism -- happens to be retreating from its established ethical guidelines. Some bloggers are writing about the free spreads at previews; anonymity is down the drain (the critic at the N.Y. Daily News is proud that readers and those in the industry can now relate to her), and so on. It's becoming a junket universe -- and not the custard -- yet again.
November 21, 2008 1:27 PM | | Comments (0)

Well, I too was at the aforementioned Slow Journalism panel, passing the USC Annenberg/Getty Arts Journalism "helper" baton to John. Though I think the Slow label lends itself too easily to bad jokes, I agree with Doug's idea that many of the principles of the Slow Food movement may be applied to journalism in general -- and arts journalism especially. Sure, large traditional companies are overworking already hammered critics, reporters, and editors in the name of online presence. (Two blog posts a week! Audio slideshow! Flip it!) But I don't blame the Internet itself for that. And a digital pluralism of voices doesn't necessarily undermine quality, which is the fear some of us old fogeys have.


By the way, newsprint folks, has the Newspaper Guild just rolled over and died? Actually, it did years ago, when the union refused to understand the importance of freelancers and how they/we would be employed (as it were) to undermine staff jobs. At least the U.A.W. raises a flag for its members as government billions change hands.


I would like to focus, though, on a statement someone in our business made, a very smart person on the digital side of the Internet divide. Working so closely and constantly with images, this introspective journalist claimed, has made it more difficult to write.


Aren't images enough? Some blogs, for example, do marvelous things with them, with or without captions. narrative or not. Still, the troubled journalist was worried that the writing part of his imagination needed exercise, needed time to wade into deeper water.


An art critic for more than four decades told me that at one of his jobs, he wasn't allowed to choose the images (the photo editor did, usually of artist-friends). So the critic learned to write in an "I am a camera" manner, squeezing description, evaluation, and occasionally that extra "why is this important?" thought into the few hundred words he had. Would he rather have had photos galore to play with, as he does on his blog now? "Both words and photos," he told me. "As long as I have enough time."

November 21, 2008 8:01 AM | | Comments (0)

I'm preparing to yak at some cultural colleagues (in a classroom context) about credibility and ethics in our new age of immediate journalism and have come to an unexpected, though tentative, conclusion:


That critics, as opposed to reporters, are unavoidably "unethical" by the very nature of our jobs because opinion, however transparent or fact-based, doesn't fit the usual J-school ethical guidelines. Remember the high-school definitions of ethics and morals? Something of their squishy difference seems to applies to how we measure "right and wrong" for reporters and critics.


I've always wondered why big-boy editors tend to mistrust and sometimes disdain their own feature departments, and this may be one of the reasons: "All sides" reporting and singular opinion seem inimical. Any editor who's worked with a reporter-critic who's fearful to write that something is good or bad knows just what I mean.


Sure, a whole batch of the usual ethical guidelines apply to both types of work, and most apply equally in the blog fog and out. (Here's where I will recount about how one new, multiplatform company I worked for asked me to cross the editorial/advertising line and another traditional one did not.) But the replacement of the longtime classical music critic at the Plain Dealer, Donald Rosenberg, ostensibly because of his lack of critical sympathy with the relatively young Cleveland Orchestra conductor Franz Welser-Möst, brings up ethical issues related only to critics. (Wanna read a really good blog post about negative criticism? Here's Ann Powers on her own review of diva Tina Turner.)


So, do any of you critics or editors have any thoughts 1) on whether digital multiplatforming (and the overwork it entails) has changed ethics and credibility, or 2) do critics require a different set of rules to play by? Love to know.





October 23, 2008 9:23 AM | | Comments (2)

As more an arts editor than a writer, I am curious why we're not seeing arts coverage that more fully reflects the present economic . . . slump, crisis, crash. It's as if the reviews and features I'm reading were written a year or a decade ago.

Where's the effect of the market drop and resulting semidemipanic on institutional portfolios and philanthropic support; on sales, of artwork or tickets, in big places and small; on content, which is a powerful topic for critics of all kinds that's rarely touched? (There's a whole school of art crit that actually turns up its collective nose whenever the word content is uttered.)

Do critics and arts reporters think that their editors imagine their coverage and commentary as a relief from the world, instead of a crucial part of it? My answer: yup, especially the editors who decide what moves and what sits. I'd be glad to read anyone's thoughts.

And a quick note about something my ARTicles colleague John Rockwell just filed below. He writes that reading the Sunday NYT made him "nostalgic for the good old days, meaning the days when there was more I wanted to read in the paper and less commercial pop-culture dross (by which I am careful to make a distinction from real criticism about real pop culture)."

Me, I read quite a lot of commercial "dross" about that other culture, the high-rent stuff, too. It's plenty commercial, with lots of bucks involved, especially in museums. Just thought I'd mention.

Actually, I've never bought into the high-low distinction, from a critical POV, anyway.


October 16, 2008 6:54 AM | | Comments (1)

typewriter-vintage.jpgI've been teaching arts journalism for the first time. Let me offer a small antidote to the sadness in our field -- as jobs shrivel, as doubt takes root -- in the form of a first impression that could seem naive to teachers with years behind them.

My office was filled yesterday as students, one after another, showed me work in progress. They asked for help with interviews and research, hoping to give some convincing form to their passions for opera, quilting, roller derbies, "green" weddings, sustainable design. I'm lucky, because they have no trouble understanding that with the right approach, weddings and roller derbies may share the same tent as Messiaen or Conceptual art.

I met these curious young women and men just a few weeks ago, and I know little about them. But very soon I saw that we all have the same queer urge to condense ourselves into words, into stories. Although they slouch and tease and pretend otherwise, they're yearning, absolutely yearning, to be read.

Writers with this kind of compelling need will demand readers -- create them if necessary. Of course I'm worried that my students' more traditional newspaper and magazine dreams will elude them. But after yesterday, I had a hunch that most would set their ambition on any number of promising platforms -- just as long as they could write.  

June 4, 2008 9:37 PM | | Comments (1)

Critic Elizabeth Zimmer has just posted the news on that critic Deborah Jowitt, who for four decades covered dance at the Village Voice, was fired from her staff position -- although she's welcome, apparently, to continue writing as a cheaper freelancer. Quite a collection of critics, those Voicers who've been canned ...

March 27, 2008 12:10 PM | | Comments (0)

pattigypsy.jpgI've just started to teach arts journalism to a wonderful class -- sure, give me a few weeks, but I go in optimistic. But then a colleague asked me the question anyone in this business would, should, ask: Why teach a skill for jobs that are drying up?

Tuesday night (March 25), I was handed a solid answer, one that I must admit I already knew. I went with my very dear friend, a Tony-voting theater critic for a major metropolitan newspaper, to the St. James Theater for a critic's-night preview of Gypsy, with Patti LuPone as you-know-who. Opening night is Thursday, so even though I am straining to tell you what I thought of it, I can't.

Yet I bet you want to know, may even be dying to know, which is why, as long as curtains go up, critics will always have work.

My friend, let's call him Brooks, because of a series of editorial circumstances was under absolutely no obligation to review. So the evening was a streetcar-man's holiday, which seemed to make him happy; he even had a glass of wine with his pretheater burger, something I'd never seen him do.

We remained sitting, silent, as lights came up after the first act. Then Brooks hit his fist on the arm of the infant-size seat: "I don't care, I'm going to write about this, whether or not they print it." I could see on his face that he was thinking of scribbling some retroactive notes and already rehearsing his lede.

What would induce a member of any audience to swap an evening of guaranteed leisure and potential enjoyment for a stretch of strenuous observation and then hours of immersion into the sweat-making cauldron of writing? Marx -- remember him, Karl with a K? -- ages ago provided the cliché: unalienated labor, work that's not work but irresistible love. Brooks had no choice. The words (and music!) on stage demanded company, and continuation, for themselves, and he was there.

As you can see, the same thing happened to me.

March 26, 2008 6:36 PM | | Comments (2)
New information from Lily Tung at end.

My partner the art critic got an e-mail this morning from a China-based group called Hipic, which, after reading about it, would probably be pronounced HIP-ic, not HIGH-pic. Here's the who-we-are:

"Hipic" is an independent artistic project centered on pictures initiated by Yang Zhenzhong, Xu Zhen, Huang Kui and other artists, who established the "Hipic team." "Hipic" collects and displays flood of pictures from all over the world using internet as a platform. "Hipic" central system,, diffuses pictures on various visual poles, including public screens, TV monitors, computer, mobile screens, and other mediums, which undoubtedly became part of everyone"s life.

You may or may not find these visual disseminators worthy of interest; Hipic just had a "soft" opening in ShanghART gallery in Beijing and says it will hang its screens in four more.

But in order to join the Hipic site, here's what you have to read and click (spelling is corrected):

Hipic User License Agreement

By signing up you have agreed to be bound by the terms of this Agreement.

Welcome to use this interactive public website, please read carefully and follow the terms hereinafter to guarantee law and order, as well as civil tranquility:

1. This website should not be used to threat the country security or divulge State's secrets. It should not infringe upon country's society and civil rights. This website should not be used to produce, reproduce or diffuse information related to:
 a) Rebellion, laws and administrative rules violation.
 b) Subversion against country's political power, overthrow of socialism institution
 c) Country's division.
 d) National hostility or discrimination, and breach of national unity.
 e) Reality distortion or falsification, rumors dissemination, disturbance of society functionary 
 f) Propagation of superstitions or any other topics related to depravity, erotism, gamble, murder, terrorism, sects, or criminal acts.
 g) Public insults or calumny against an individual.
 h) Damage of national reputation
 i) Other violations against the Constitutions or laws
 j) Commercial advertisement without permission
2. Users should preserve mutual respect and are responsible for their acts and speech.
3. It is prohibited to sign up with a user name comprising any vocabulary related to this website or insults, calumnies, subject to be deleted.
4. It is prohibited to use this website on nefarious acts purposes
5. If the user is involved in any activities violating country's laws, this website will not be blamed: user registration information will all be recorded and provided to any related official organization if necessary. 


I asked my partner if this could be a parody, because artists can be witty and satirical even (especially?) when at risk. And risk there is: a show in Shanghai by artist Zhang Huan was closed by local government officials just before it opened.

This welcome addition is from blogger Lily Tung:

I covered art in Shanghai for several U.S. and Hong Kong publications from 1994-1999, and I know two of the three artists. I can say with near certainty that the user agreement is a parody. Yang Zhengzhong especially creates tongue-in-cheek work. I laughed when I read it,
thinking to myself, "That is so THEM."

In addition, most websites in China don't require users to sign an agreement. That fact also leads me to believe Hipic is making a joke.

The beautiful result is that the artists still look to be following government rules, and officials will buy it because they won't understand the subtle irony.

March 5, 2008 7:11 AM | | Comments (1)


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