The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism recently released their 2013 State of the News Media report on American Journalism. One of the topline take-aways was, “In 2012, a continued erosion of news reporting resources converged with growing opportunities for those in politics, government agencies, companies and others to take their messages directly to the public.” The Pew study used recent presidential election coverage as example and concluded, “campaign reporters were acting primarily as megaphones, rather than as investigators… [with] less reporting by journalists to interpret and contextualize.” The report paints a picture of more and more adept newsmakers, and less and less capable newsrooms. One easily concludes that the nature of the newsroom is changing.
Since newsmakers — and as Pew defines them artists are newsmakers — are more and more capable of taking their message directly to the public, why should we worry about the future of the arts newsroom, or any newsroom?
Writing in Slate, Matthew Yglesias argued that we shouldn’t, and that, “the news-reading public has never had more and better information at their fingertips.” Gabriel Rossman in Code and Culture noted that consumers don’t evaluate coverage the same way the Columbia Journalism Review (or Pew) does. And Tom Blumer on Newsbusters wrote, “since when does the press have a preemptive role as the nation’s filter?” NPR highlighted that Americans are abandoning their long-trusted news outlets, anyway. News industry-wide trends are perhaps accentuated in arts newsrooms, which had less allegiance and support to begin with, and a uniquely resourceful set of newsmakers.
More than a single author, or critic, the newsroom as an entity has historically played a central role developing the slow honest bond between readers and subjects. Unlike politics, where in some way participation is guaranteed, arts participation is an “at will” activity, and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has documented declines in participation for two decades. Gabriel Josipovici’s history, On Trust: Art and the Temptation of Suspicion, suggests the impact of “cultures of trust” between artists and audience and it’s hard to imagine (and hard to prove) that such cultures of trust impact arts participation today.
While some degree of cultural horizontalism is a foregone conclusion, declining newsrooms force us to focus our attention on what we really value in the arts, and newsrooms: Are there things we should be doing to reduce the impact on the arts?
Any solution set must embrace a vision of the future arts newsroom considerably less monolithic and more diversified than in prior generations. The non-profit that I founded just kicked off our third annual student arts journalism competition, and our hope in running the competition is not only to identify and support talented young writers, but also to encourage serious consideration of arts writing. Regardless of where, or how, it is produced, superior arts writing helps develop the bond between the arts and the public.