Results tagged “critics” from ARTicles
When a publication lays off a batch of key employees, the editor has to say something in an attempt to soothe the staffers who remain. Still, as reassurances go, "Today's changes won't be noticed by readers" is unlikely to pass muster. That's what editor Tim Gray told the survivors at troubled Variety yesterday after he laid off chief film critic Todd McCarthy, chief theater critic David Rooney, film critic Derek Elley and "features editor/indie film reporter Sharon Swart, along with several copy and design desk employees," according to TheWrap.
Even if the three critics take Gray up on his offer to let them continue as freelancers, there's no question that readers will notice the difference. Using what has become boilerplate language for media industry budget cutters, Gray told survivors in a memo, "Our goal is the same: To maintain, or improve, our quality coverage." A laudable ambition, but firing people is a thoroughly unrealistic way of attempting to reach it, as editors and publishers well know. What's remarkable is that, as long as they're dealing in fantasy, they don't come up with better talking points.
The issue is not solely one of skilled, experienced critics being cut loose -- though McCarthy, a 31-year veteran of Variety, speaks eloquently to that in an interview with Sharon Waxman. There's also the matter of what happens behind the scenes. Newspapers never have had fact-checkers as such, but good editors and copy editors serve that function, and they've saved many a writer's butt from inaccuracies, inadvertently libelous statements, and general sloppiness. Of course, it helps immensely when those editors know the writers, and therefore know what to look out for. With fewer editors, and freelancers rather than staff writers, the holes in the safety net get larger, and the publication suffers. That can get expensive. For a current case study from a related industry, see publishing's "The Last Train From Hiroshima" debacle.
To a person, former staff critics express a very personal sense of loss--not just of their livelihoods, but of the kind of consistent, informed local arts reporting and reviewing that they fear may not be possible with a patchwork assemblage of freelancers and general assignment reporters. Their concern is echoed by arts organizations that, already acutely aware of competition for review space, now see their potential for coverage dwindling even further. The question, everyone agrees, is not whether classical music needs a critical forum, but what shape that forum might take in a world where traditional print outlets are fading and online sites are only beginning to realize their potential.
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.
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?
He's right about the shortsightedness of news organizations in cutting arts coverage and about the effect its loss will have on them and on the wider culture:
Historically, the best critics have guarded standards, stimulated debate and, in the complex process, reinforced the importance of art in society. They have been tastemakers, taskmasters and possibly ticket-sellers. Some have even written well. Despite automatic controversy, they played a role in aesthetic checks and balances. If their opinions were important, the reasons behind them were more important.But he puts the blame for this mass extinction in the wrong place, I think. The internet isn't killing arts journalism. In fact, I think the internet offers the best last hope for arts journalism. But first, here's more of a flavor of Martin's argument:
A primary cause of our imminent extinction must be the internet. An impatient generation is succumbing to the free and easy lure of computer enlightenment. Sure, not all those who cover the arts in old-fashioned print are paragons - still, most do have sufficient education and/or experience to justify their views. On the web, anyone can impersonate an expert. Anyone can blog. Credentials don't count. All views are equal. Some sort of criticism may survive the American media revolution, but professional criticism may not.
Essentially, our civilisation is tilting towards anti-authoritarian contests. Audiences, not judges, select winners. Call it the American Idolisation of culture. On TV, contestants get voted off without explanation. Quality is measured by thumbs, up or down. Scholarly analyses have turned into irrelevant extravagances for snobs.
Many US papers have abandoned thoughtful, detailed reviews altogether. Publishers, editors and, presumably, readers want instant evaluations and newsbites, preferably with flashy pictures. It is Zagat-think, simplicity for the simple-minded.
This is a familiar argument: We have standards. We have credentials. We've had a system to vet quality. If you know the system, it's easy to understand the hierarchy of quality and authority. Critics X's opinion in the New York Times or LA Times is worth more than Critic Y's in the Johnny Falls Daily News. A system of official critics and editors and publications lends authority to judgments of quality. So take away that system and what do you have? Chaos, surely. Remember that famous New Yorker cartoon with the picture of the dog in front of a computer: "On the internet, nobody knows you're a dog". Anyone with a computer and an internet connection can get on and express an opinion.
And they do. And how will you know if that opinion is any good or not? And worse - if everyone weighs in and we're so crushed by the volume, how will anyone have the time or interest to read more complicated arguments? If the easy opinion dominates (even if that "opinion" consists of nothing more than texting a vote for Your Next American Idol) will there be anyone left to write those more complicated or informed criticism? Will there be an audience for it? And even if there is, how will readers find the experts?
Martin suggests that this new free-for-all produces a culture of lazy consumers who don't know and/or don't care about quality. The thumbs-up has as much weight as the Financial Times Sunday essay.
This is undoubtedly true for a huge number of people. But perhaps those people weren't paying attention before anyway. And so what if this easy insta-expert business is nothing more than a way to get people paying attention, even at the most basic level? Look at the dance shows on TV right now. Who thought people would watch dance? Yet Dancing with the Stars and So you think you can Dance have been at the top of the ratings. They've occasionally been the most-watched shows on their nights. Maybe it doesn't mean anything, but more people than ever have been at least watching some form of dance in the past year. Anything wrong with that?
Anything that encourages people to respond to art (even it's just voting) is a good thing. Too many people (believe it or not) are afraid to express an opinion about that symphony or ballet they've just heard. We elevated the expert opinion about the arts to such a high level that many "regular" people were afraid to express an opinion because they weren't experts.
But I think the larger answer to Martin's concern is that human nature doesn't change that much. The reason critics have been important is because we have a need to find people who can help guide us to the "good" stuff. That need hasn't gone away; to the contrary, we need that kind of help now more than ever. The volume of art available to us now is greater than ever before. Everywhere a wail of complaints has gone up about being overwhelmed by how much there is.
Two final points: First - I think the ocean of creative work out there forces people to become more sophisticated in order to deal with it, not less. Don't mistake quick judgment for short attention spans. With more things competing for our attention, we can afford to be pickier. And we are. We have also expanded our cultural palates, and our tastes and expertise are more wide-ranging than they used to be. Some culture we like we engage with only casually (again the voting), while other culture we devote more of our attentions.
Second - I think the that what's happening here as far as criticism goes is not the disappearance of good critics, but the realignment of critical authority.In a way, we are coming out of the Model T era of criticism. In most cities in this country, the number of arts critics narrowed to less than a handful over the past decade. Our traditional structure of bestowing critical authority in the press had become threadbare. A lot of what has passed for arts journalism has been on auto-pilot. Want proof? We're not seeing significant protests from the arts community as critics are eliminated at local papers.
So where do you find the new critical authority? One answer is that you-the-reader have to work harder. First, because of the internet, we have more access to critics at traditional publications all over the planet. Living in Seattle, I couldn't read the LA Times regularly before the internet came along. Now I can make a daily habit of stories in the Times, The Guardian, The Age, and dozens of other excellent publications. I have to have criteria in this expanded menu for who I want to pay attention to.
Technorati currently tracks 300,000 arts blogs. Many (most) aren't very interesting. But some are. Many are. Slowly the landscape is realigning and signs of where authority lives are becoming more visible. And I think readers are becoming more and more sophisticated about how to find it. For those who aren't? Well, they probably never were.
Page had worked for "Get Out," the Tribune's entertainment weekly, for more than five years and had been among a reported 11 people laid off about three weeks ago. The Tribune layoff followed an earlier one a couple of months ago in which four people were dismissed, including the editor of the features department, Cheryl Kushner. The Tribune, like many daily newspapers across the country, has been struggling to adjust to a sharp decline in circulation.Page was also a fellow in the NEA's theatre critic fellowship program at USC in 2005.
Last weekend a group of about 400 leaders of minority theatre got together in New York to talk about the marginalization of minority theatre. Like every creative industry, the economics of theatre are changing, and small black and Latino theatres are particularly squeezed. But halfway through an account of a panel discussion in Backstage, came these remarkable paragraphs:
Though no study currently exists on the state of theatres of color in comparison to other small, non-profit theatres with financial struggles, the panelists offered anecdotal evidence of marginalization, particularly by the media. Marjorie Moon from the Billie Holliday Theatre said that she continues to beg reviewers to see her shows, even going so far as to send them $25 money orders. According to Moon, she has been refused so many times that the Billie Holiday Theatre does not have valuable press clips to send with grant applications, which results in a lack of funding.
If theatres do receive media coverage, it is biased or obtuse, according to Lorna Hill, artistic director of the 30 year-old Ujima Theatre in Buffalo. "In Buffalo we don't have culturally competent reporters or reviewers," Hill said. "I would give one beautiful leg to not have another white reviewer show up in my theatre and misinterpret my work."
For Emanuel Moran, artistic director of Teatro Sea in Manhattan, Latino theatres face a twofold disadvantage when gaining media coverage: being a low-budget minority theatre, and featuring bilingual and Spanish language productions.
"Newspapers will send reviewers who don't speak Spanish," said Moran. "So they say, 'That was a beautiful show, but I didn't understand a word.'
Money for reviews? Really? I can't think of a better way to make sure an ethical critic would give a show a pass. Or am I just being naive?
There was a time when the news magazines at least made a stab at covering culture. But that has dwindled in recent decades.
This is the second major buyout at Newsweek in six years. The first one claimed senior staffers like Lucy Howard, art critic [and NAJP member] Peter Plagens, long time religion editor Ken Woodward, Jean Seligman, Joan Engels, and David Alpern.
Plagens still writes occasionally for the magazine as a contributing editor, and David Ansen (the magazine's senior--and much-loved--movie critic since 1977) and Cathleen McGuigan may also continue to contribute after they cease to be staffers this year.
Just watched Penn Jillette low ball it on "Dancing with the Stars" with Kym. He tried illusion on the judges and it almost worked, sort of. I know that's redundant, but Jillette may be one of the few "from the other side" in the business (no matter how famous he is, his origins --authentic, off-B'way, 99 -seat theater or less -- stick) who would venture into this commercial TV show and retain his hip.
I'm a huge fan of the TV dance shows, especially "So You Think You Can Dance" in part because they teach critical skills through subterfuge. And, in other part, because they seriously promote choreographers. Those judges can be tough and very often they are right. Save for Debbie Allen, who is so loaded with pomposity and 'tude she registers as nothing but false and massively egotistical. She can't judge without plugging her LA studio. There is something to be learned from that about what NOT TO DO. About the separation between advertising and editorial.
But I digress...Penn Jillette and "Dancing with the Stars"...last week The Los Angeles Herald-Examiner held a reunion. Her-Ex theater critic Jack Viertel "discovered" Penn & Teller. I know he did. I remember him returning to the office -- ahhh the days when we critics wrote in the office around communal pillars on computers the size of carry-on luggage, reading our ledes aloud, smoking cigarettes and editing each other's copy in ink on cog-marked, green and white striped printout paper.
(For the most incisive nostalgic report on the Her-Ex old days, see John Schwada's Reunion blog for Fox News Channel 11. He captures the Herald perfectly -- and why so many true blue die hard reporters and critics came out of there. And why this was journalism in all its romantic glory.)
But on one of those days, Jack Viertel returned beside himself over Penn & Teller. The rest is history, and Jack got it. Critics meant something then. They still can and do. It just takes guts. By which I mean listening to your gut.
Choreographers on TV and film have always been a big deal inside the circle of Those Who Care, but something is happening right now that is different and monumental and we ought to pay attention. "So You Think You Can Dance" will start up soon (the search for the next Top 20 began on March 1 in NYC).
The only thing missing from most of its contenders is ballet. Perhaps the only reason ballet should exist right now is because it provides (still) the best training a human dance body can get. The choreographers on the show don't come from ballet, but they value it. They value good movement, period. (Mia Michaels often scrapes emotions raw, a good thing, to my mind, and exceptional on television.)
As a result, it's impossible as a dance-lover not to value them, the choreographers. They give the contestants new works, often in styles that are alien, each week. To see those kids perform -- I mean, think if, on "American Idol," the singers didn't get to choose their songs but had to sing something completely original each week -- is to see budding artists on the line. The choreographers reign.
In acknowledgment of the ascendancy of the on-camera choreographers...If you are one, you may want to submit your work for a Choreography Media Honor. Go to www.dancecamerawest.org for a submission form. The 2nd annual CMHs will be held on June 13 at the Directors Guild of America (DGA in Hollywood). A potentially fabulous opportunity to see a lot of film and/or TV work by choreographic talent known and unknown. For tickets, contact Teresa Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Economist's new Intelligent Life magazine has a go at making a list of the best critics working today. It's an idiosyncratic compilation, at the very least. To start - there are 10 book critics named, but only one dance critic (The NYT's Alastair Macaulay), two visual art critics (Peter Schjeldahl and TJ Clark), one TV critic (Nancy Banks-Smith) and two classical music critics (the New Yorker's Alex Ross and the Evening Standard's Norman Lebrecht). Lebrecht doesn't even consider himself a critic, and he doesn't, for the most part, review concerts.
My first reaction was to quickly compile a but-what-about list of my own that proves the parochialism of The Economist's 24 writers and editors who voted in this exercise. But in making my list, I realized that these things tend to say a lot more about those making the lists than they do about any definitive standard or ranking.
Next thought. How many critics in any field actually belong on a list of bests? My list of best American classical music critics starts to fall off after nine. But that depends on the criteria. There are probably another dozen who are good serious voices - a solid second tier. After that it's not so pretty.
But then when you add in people writing about classical music on the internet, the list suddenly swells. Sure there's a lot of crap on the web, but there's also lots of interesting writing too.
I tend to think that the vitality of an art form is reflected in the quality of the discourse around it. One of the bad things in American culture in the 80s and 90s was the narrowing of public discourse about the arts. When people stop arguing about the quality of the ideas, those ideas get less relevant.
So how many great critics does it take to make a discourse?
Matt Wolf in The Guardian suggests some other flaws in the list, and makes the inescapable observation:
Fun though it is as a critic to rifle through these assessments, one has to wonder whether the general public gives a fig for such rankings or whether they don't represent the last gasp of a critical enterprise that has been all but submerged in a welter of PR puffery. What becomes particularly apparent from Intelligent Life's article is the number of magazines that no longer regularly review the live arts, such as Time and Newsweek, whose theatre critics (Ted Kalem and Jack Kroll, respectively) were major names in their own right when I was growing up. I myself spent 21 very happy years reviewing and reporting on theatre out of London for the Associated Press, but when I moved on, so - unsurprisingly - did that job.
I don't know about Sasha and Patti and Barack vs. Hililary (I'm wearing my Obama button as I peck) and reject vs. denounce. Nor do I know whether a response to someone else's entry should be entered as a new submission or a comment. But since we are all laboring under Doug's rule of one filing a week, I'll make this a new entry.
Which is in response to Jeff Weinstein's musings about conflicts of interest. When I was younger, I was a purist. Alfred Frankenstein was the much-respected classical music and art critic of the San Francisco Chronicle; just recently, Alex Ross quoted his wonderful, insightful review of the world premiere of Terry Riley's "In C" in his book. His support fostered the extraordinary Bay Area new music scene in the 50's and 60's. I personally owed Frankenstein an affectionate debt, since when I was 15 he gave me a generous hour of his time talking about a life in music criticism, how difficult it was, how rewarding it was.
Frankenstein wrote program notes for the SF Symphony. He so bought into the orchestra's ethos that he became a fierce defender of the then-music director Enrique Jorda when everyone else was attacking him. It was very hard to separate how such a perceptive critic could defend Jorda without factoring in his relationship with the symphony.
Eventually, Frankenstein was forced out as classical critic, but not becasue the paper considered his note-writing a conflict in itself. George Szell came to town and departed after one rehearsal, pleading illness. Frankenstein, at this point apparently delusional, wrote a page 1 open letter to Szell, urging him to affirm his confidence in Jorda and the orchestra since unfounded rumors were circulating that he was somehow dissatisfied. Szell, thus provoked, wrote back that in decades of guest-conducting he had never encountered a more dire situation in a major orchestra. So Frankenstein had to quit.
In my no doubt compromised maturity, I have lightened up a little. In Britain, where there are very few staff arts critics, writing program notes and even directing concert series and festivals while continuing as a critic is common. (I at least quit the Times forfour years while I founded and ran the Lincoln Center Festival.) The British scene is very clubby, but so was Vienna's in the late 19th century, and both towns produced a lot of good music. Joe Horowitz, another critic/adminsitrator, argues that critics who cut themselves off from the real world of their chosen art form are simply contributing to their own ignorance.
For me, the issue of the appearance of conflict is almost more important than conflict itself. By and large, I will take critics at their word when they say they can retain their objectivity despite professional and social entanglements. But such ties can still look bad from the outside. And in the increasingly fragile world of print journalism, struggling for credibiity and viability, an apparent conflict can be yet another excuse to cut loose yet another critic.
Where Haydon goes wrong is in dragging Douglas Carter Beane's play, "The Little Dog Laughed," into the argument. " Already in the US this year," he writes, "column inches have been frittered away noting the trivial matter of a playwright objecting to some nudity that he wrote into a play being ignored by its current director."
But there's nothing trivial about Beane's objection, and it's a legitimate story. As Chicago Tribune theater critic Chris Jones reported on his blog, Beane took issue with About Face Theatre, a gay and lesbian company in Chicago, for leaving out the nudity that is unambiguously written into his script. (The crucial stage direction: "When they are both naked, Mitchell kneels before Alex, the door opens, Diane walks in.") According to Playbill's Kenneth Jones, Beane had refused a pre-opening request to cut the nudity and threatened to shut ...
A Spanish mayor proposes paying kids in his town a Euro for each hour they read. A high school exam board in the UK thinks the reason students don't read is that the books aren't fun. So it proposes letting students pick from the reading list of a popular TV book club. And in Philadelphia, there's a program to give away copies of movies because visual image literacy is low.
"..by its very nature, film tends to elicit a passive attitude in viewers. 'There's far more distance between a reader and a novel, since it takes longer to read and absorb a written story.' Visual media can affect us in a direct, visceral way, which bypasses the intellect and appeals directly to emotions.
Are these stories linked? I'm not sure, but it does seem astonishing to me that in an age in which there is so much art and access to it has never been easier, it's fascinating we still feel the need to bribe people to try it. My head hurts, there's so much to read, see and hear. If there were 20 of me I still couldn't get to all the things I'd love to do. And we need to pay people to read, tart up our reading lists and give away movies?
And while I'm at it, why does so much "education" in the arts seem so evangelical - like the art we're trying to teach you is better than whatever other thing you'd do on your own? Are these attempts at social engineering culture because we want to broaden culture and creativity, or are we stuck on definitions of culture and literacy that are too narrow? I'm no visual art or movie critic, but it seems to me that our visual literacy is higher now than it has ever been.
I'm Berlin for three+ weeks, back Feb. 6. Two profoundly unoriginal thoughts:
There are a lot of arts, and arts journalism, in Berlin. Competing newspapers (like London is and New York used to be), and hence competing opinions at the newsstand. Whether German papers cover the little guys (and popular culture) as assiduously as does the NY Times, I don't know, but the London and Paris papers too focus on the big stuff. Had a meeting with Manuel Brug, who is music (and dance) critic of the Berliner Morgenpost AND Die Welt, a national paper. Just laid Barenboim low, an attack that I think appeared in artsjournal or musical america or some such. Bright, conservative, maybe a little bitchy.A distinguished veteran of German and Austrian cultural life had dismissed Brug as "repellent" at lunch just before my appointment with him, tho when I met him, he seemed decent enough. A lot of critics strike artists as repellent; some of them actually are repellent. Which doesn't entirely invalidate the profession. Last night I saw "Die Meistersinger" at the Deutsche Oper; good cast, good old Goetz Friedrich production; evoked the Nazis subtly without beating you over the head with them. Best performance in it was Markus Brueck as Beckmesser. Solid voice, fabulous, Chaplinesque physical comedian. Played him as a critic, not a Jew (character's original name, you'll recall, was Hans Lick). Repellent, maybe, but endearing.
My other thought, surprise surprise, has to do with the Internet. Confronted with the prospect of piling up 25 days worth of New York Timeses on my desk, my wife said: Why not just read it online? I had looked at the NYT online edition before, but never relied on it. Now I see no need to buy the "real" paper ever again, unless to provide our miniature dog a place to pee. As soon as Doug McLennan figures out how to tell the newspaper industry how to make serious money online, and hence to pay its repellent online critics real wages, print is dead. To the extent I feel nostalgic about that (and I don't, now, really), I retired just in time.