When I first arrived in Boston in the fall of 1974 (“Hey, people, what’s with the forced busing? Are you meshugge?”), you couldn’t spit without hitting a music magazine. Pop Top, Rock Around the World, Night Life, Musicians Guide, Nightfall – they were all over town.
And there were so many music critics, even I was one, writing for all of the above under severel variations of my name.
If you didn’t pay close attention at the time, you almost wouldn’t notice I knew virtually nothing about music.
Now comes the Boston Herald’s Jed Gottlieb – the last pop music critic at a major Boston newspaper – to survey the wreckage of local music coverage in a piece for Fast Company headlined “The web is killing newspaper arts critics like me. Why that matters.”
This is nuts graf:
The vast majority of daily papers cover a fraction of the concerts, albums, films, TV shows, theater productions, and gallery and museum exhibits than they did 10 years ago. A quick look at the rolls of professional organizations–the American Theatre Critics Association, the Jazz Journalists Association, the National Society of Film Critics–shows less than 10% of members holding full-time jobs at papers, down from approximately 50%, depending on the organization, around 2000.
Gottlieb says the internet – which has played a major role in the decline of newspapers over all – is no substitute for what it has muscled out. “Online arts outlets, from full-fledged magazines to blogs run by a single person . . . produce vital, smart, passionate work, but they can’t replace the loss of arts coverage at papers.”
Or the beneficial side effects of newspaper arts coverage.
Arts writers provide a historical record of their beat like any other reporter. When holes start appearing in that historical record (or when it is abandoned completely), arts organizations can suffer. Newspaper coverage serves as promotion for community theater companies, small galleries, unknown rock bands, and others without PR or advertising budgets. Both authors and musicians have told me print reviews spark interest from publishers and record labels, even when sales lag.
In the end, Gottlieb says, what is lost goes beyond the “stumble-upon effect” of newspapers, in which readers encounter arts coverage on their way to, say, the sports pages. It’s also this: “Every piece of good arts writing dips, if ever so slightly, into the human experience, into what it means to be alive. No piece of fantasy football draft advice or gossip item about [Miley] Cyrus’s marriage can do that.”
Check out the whole piece. It’s good arts writing.