Rainey Knudson, Founder of Texas visual arts website Glasstire.com, at NEA Art Works blog, 7/22/11
In recent years, there's been a groundswell of recognition about the alarming state of arts journalism. Witness the current collaboration between the Knight Foundation and the NEA; or the USC Annenberg/Getty Arts Journalism Program; or the Warhol Foundation's Arts Writing Initiative. The sense of urgency has resulted in a bit more funding for some writers, which is a good start.
The truth is, if we can just crack the nut of paying great art critics a living wage, then the arts journalism of the near future has the potential to be radically more effective, with far greater reach, than the old print model that has crumbled around us. In their conversation on this blog, the NEA's Joan Shigekawa and the Knight Foundation's Dennis Scholl cite a study that found that 50% of local arts journalism jobs have been lost in the past five to eight years. It's a shocking number, but in addition to spurring us all to action, it should also politely beg the question of how vital those critics were if their jobs (and their papers) wilted so suddenly.
There's probably a reason that that brand of arts journalism is dying, and it's not solely that advertising dollars are migrating away from print.
Arts journalism in the heyday of the daily newspaper got concentrated in the hands of too few people. For some of them, the easiest route was to applaud every show they wrote about, or to only cover their small coterie of friends. Bloggers and web startups said, "We can make this more fun, more entertaining, more vital, for way less money." Now those bloggers and websites are playing an ever-more critical role in arts journalism, and they themselves have to figure out how to pay their writers. The nut's going to get cracked; we're all just figuring out exactly how.