New York Public Radio WQXR talks with Scott Cantrell — the Dallas Morning News‘ classical music critic who will soon be phasing into part-time freelancing before retiring altogether — and Doug McLennan, founder of Artsjournal.com, about the fact that probably only a dozen people in America today are full-time classical music reviewers at newspapers. There will soon be zero, Cantrell notes, in the entire state of Texas. Speaking of which, WQXR provides a map of the remaining critics.
Not surprisingly, McLennan is of the ‘the internet has let a thousand flowers bloom” school of thought. When he started Artsjournal, it was a chore finding articles worth linking to. Now it’s a flood. He’s right, though, about nostalgia being a mistake, nostalgia for what was almost a temporary aberration: the proliferation of cultural journalism as a full-time career across the U.S. It didn’t exist before the mid-20th century and it probably won’t exist that way again. It wasn’t necessarily better, he argues, just different from whatever the heck it is that’s developing now (although he hopes one improvement will come: the media losing its obsession with clicks and page views as the sole metric of merit or success). After all, when I left the News, I was the last full-time book critic in the state of Texas – and that’s still the case now, some eight years later.
But what’s not addressed in the stimulating radio conversation on WQXR’s “Conducting Business” show is a fact I’ve heard from area arts organizations of different kinds: all the blogs and websites that arts groups currently court with press releases and comp tickets cannot reliably deliver anything like the audience the old daily newspaper could. With Twitter and Facebook adding to the dense digital foliage, artists and arts groups struggle to find ways through the forest of old media, new media, direct mail, skywriting and social media to reach listeners, readers, theatergoers. (Full disclosure: I’m a former colleague of Cantrell’s and was an early blogger for Artsjournal as book/daddy.)