the critical diaspora

There’s been a lot of coverage lately of the dismissal/downsizing of some of the nation’s top print classical music critics.  And there should have been.  Newspapers are one of the primary ways that orchestras communicate and market to their target audiences.  Check out these statistics, courtesy of the Newspaper Association of America (NAA):

  • 74% of newspaper readers are 45 years of age or older
  • 51% of newspaper subscribers earn more than $50K
  • 53% of newspaper subscribers have attended college and/or have earned advanced degrees

Sounds a lot like the average symphony attendee, doesn’t it?

Plus, with orchestras being in such a fragile state financially, having trained journalists with long experience (and the accountability that should go with a position at a daily or weekly paper) covering their beats is essential.

As a blogger who makes no claims to being a journalist, either in an amateur or professional capacity, I’m concerned about rumor-mongering and innuendo that could place livelihoods and the health of entire organizations in danger.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some excellent arts bloggers out there, but I find that I put a lot more faith in those who have either had a print journalism background or those who are currently active in the field of print journalism.

I’m not sure why the newspapers are shooting themselves in the foot (or other, less strategically desirable body parts), but I hope that our hometown daily, the Oregonian, keeps their one full-time classical music critic around for years to come.

9 thoughts on “the critical diaspora

  1. Kimberly

    I’m quite torn on this issue – I tend to agree with you 100% about the damage the newspapers are doing to themselves, but on the other hand – I think that printed press and news is very soon going to be a thing of the passed – the downgrading is happening in other fields as well – I think that blogs will be the “new” place to go to read about art and music – since a lot of the writers from the press have blogs …. There is talk about local online bulletin boards which could be a good alternative …

  2. Charles Noble Post author

    My major concerns are accountability and accessibility to core audiences – most older patrons aren’t quite to the point where they’re that comfortable with going online to find info about their local orchestra, and for now they’re the largest part of our audience. However, as the generational progression continues, I agree that online sources, including blogs, will be where most everyone gets their arts info.

  3. jwp41

    I am an “older patron”, and a confirmed online habitue — retired from the computer industry; BUT! — the organization of the online resources is quite often so bad that it is IMPOSSIBLE to find up to date information about classical music performances and events. For one thing, they are usually listed under ARTS, not MUSIC. Secondly, it takes a lot of attention to keep websites updated and many of our organizations today are NOT capable or at least not aware of the need to keep up.

    Bill in Dallas

  4. Charles Noble Post author

    Bill, you make a good point. You hit the nail on the head – it’s hard to find the information that you want all on the same page. I wish that most areas would adopt a similar website to Chicago Classical Music, which puts a lot of Chicago’s classical music organizations’ sites (and other info) in a centrally available location. I still look in at least four different locations on the Oregonian’s website to find concert reviews and listings, for the exact reasons that you specify.

  5. Larry Fried

    Thanks for raising this issue. Blogs are fun to read but they represent only one person’s viewpoint with absolutely no editorial control or input. It’s like the old joke: “I’m the world’s greatest authority on my own opinion.”

    “I find that I put a lot more faith in those who have either had a print journalism background or those who are currently active in the field of print journalism.” Right on, Charles! I can think of one blogger who has become a self-proclaimed expert on orchestra management yet he’s never managed an orchestra in his life. Yikes!

    I’m concerned that so many people – perhaps mainly younger people? – give much too much weight to something just because it appears on-line. To paraphrase Gertrude Stein: “A blog is a blog is a blog.”

  6. bobopera

    I recently ran across a 1981 interview with Virgil Thomson, and was struck by his response to the question of whether he perceived himself as a champion of new music and composers:

    “Judgment and opinion are dangerous. Any music critic or book critic who sets out to champion things is an idiot. I used to tell people who came to work with me in the music department of the newspaper, ‘Nobody’s interested in what you think about something or feel about something. They want to know what took place, when, and where, and what it was like.’ You’re not to help trustees raise money, or advertise standard repertory, or to form public opinion, or promote local composers, or defend the public against them, or teach music appreciation, or spread enlightenment. All these things you do accidentally, but your main business is to report the musical life of the community.”

    Thomson was 85 at the time of this interview, which might account for his rather cantankerous reply. I’m wondering, though, if in light of the current discussion, his brand of music criticism would make it in today’s print media environment.

  7. Charles Noble Post author

    I think he might do quite well, actually, and he might favor bloggers who actually do what he suggests. I would love to see coverage of the whole scene, with a perspective that takes into account the trends as they happen nationally and how they are (or are not) applied locally. Everyone’s covering their own beat – what they’re interested in, but there’s not a lot of information sharing going on, I suspect. I think that an online presence which has several critics working together to cover the scene (orchestra, chamber music, opera, new music, etc) and doing some longer form (2000+ words) on the trends in that they see, or in-depth profiles of some of the organizations at each level of budgetary expense would be an invaluable resource, and would accomplish what the wise Mr. Thomson was wishing for decades ago. What do you think?

  8. Larry Fried

    “Everyone’s covering their own beat – what they’re interested in, but there’s not a lot of information sharing going on, I suspect. ”

    There’s no reason or incentive for bloggers to share anything. Most of them are so very impressed with themselves. They think that simply by virtue of having/writing a blog that what they have to say is of tremendous relevance and importance.

    Most of it is not.


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