Saturday, March 14, 2009
The Future of Arts Journalism
I walked up Fifth Avenue the other night to Christie's at Rockefeller Center. My friend Toby Usnik, Christie's International Head of Corporate Communications, invited me to a panel discussion which he organized on the future of arts journalism. The big meeting room was crowded with writers, editors and influencers, and beautiful art work lined the walls.
The moderator of the panel was Stee Sreenivasan, a technology reporter and the Dean of Student Affairs at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Sitting on the panel were Marian Godfrey, the Senior Director of Culture Initiatives of the The Pew Charitable Trusts; Sam Sifton, Cultural News Editor of The New York Times; and Alisa Soloman, Director of the Arts & Culture concentration in the Master of Arts Program at the Columbia School of Journalism. Here they are, left to right, before the discussion began:
A compelling conversation ensued about the changes in arts journalism, and journalism in general. With the demise of so many city newspapers, how will local arts be covered? It, and a lot of journalism in general, will move on to the internet. Blogging, of course, came up. Sam Sifton said something like, "I don't really care what Elmo in his underpants blogging in Queens thinks," and I thought to myself, well I always wear pants...
Sam Sifton talked about how The Times is no longer just a newspaper -- its web site NYTimes.com functions as a news service for breaking stories. That is true -- NYTimes.com is the site I go to during the day to see what is happening in the world. The newspaper, he said, features deeper analysis of the news, and I thought that was a discerning differentiation. He reported that there were one hundred people working in the arts and culture department at The Times; I had no idea his department was so big. Alisa Soloman cleverly observed that with the short, terse statements on Twitter, we are back to the format of telegraphs.
For this discussion of how technology is affecting arts journalism, it was possible to send questions to the moderator by email, by text message or on Twitter. The moderator then repeated the questions to the panel. Though the moderator did take a few questions from the crowd assembled in the room, the majority of his questions came from his lap top. Technology shaped the event itself.
Afterwards there was a wine reception, and I met some interesting people -- more about that later. With the event, Toby successfully initiated a timely discussion as media changes before our very eyes. And, Christie's -- what a beautiful place to spend your days. A new Asian exhibition has just been installed so there were art works and antiques everywhere.