Episode: As Newspapers Cut Music Critics, a Dark Time for the Arts or Dawn of a New Age?


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As Newspapers Cut Music Critics, a Dark Time for the Arts or Dawn of a New Age?

It's no secret that arts coverage has been slashed by many news media outlets looking to pare costs, and there are fewer writers and less space devoted to serious classical music criticism. This year has seen critics leave national newspapers including the Houston Chronicle and the San Jose Mercury News; last December brought the departure of long time New York Times critic Allan Kozinn. That's not to mention magazines; the age when Time and Newsweek had full rosters of arts critics have long since passed.

This week's podcast explores the consequences of these changes for readers – and arts organizations – in a changing news environment. Joining host Naomi Lewin are Scott Cantrell, the outgoing music critic for the Dallas Morning News and Douglas McLennan, the founder and editor of ArtsJournal.com, which aggregates arts news stories from around the globe.

Cantrell is not optimistic about the future of music criticism. Having been the music critic in Dallas for 16 years, he just accepted a buyout offer, which leaves a grand total of zero full-time classical music critics in the state of Texas. "There's no future in arts criticism as a full-time job with benefits as we have known it," he said.

But if a newspaper critic as an influential arbiter of taste has declined, this hasn't led to less music criticism. Rather, a void is being filled by bloggers and other Internet pundits, who for the most part are unpaid. McLennan also believes that with the rise in non-traditional voices, the overall level of writing has improved. "I remember in the early years it was quite a chore to try and find 20 stories in a day that would be worth putting up," he said, referring to his site, which highlights noteworthy stories. "Let's not equate the golden age of criticism with the situation 20 years ago."

Both guests estimate that there are currently about a dozen classical music critics at U.S. newspapers, down from about 65 only two decades ago. New Yorker classical music critic Alex Ross recently compiled a list of remaining critics on his blog, The Rest in Noise. He lists 39 critics, but most of them are not solely dedicated to classical music. Even Cantrell had to do double-duty for several years, serving as a fill-in art and architecture critic.

WQXR has created a map based largely on Ross’s data about newspaper critics (radio, blogs, music magazines and other media are not included). Please have a look and tell us if there's anyone we're missing:

McLennan also believes that newspapers' current obsession with website clicks will exhaust itself, and new measurements of success will take over. In Cantrell’s experience, this may be a good thing. Even though his reviews are posted on his paper's website much earlier, many older readers will wait until they appear in ink.

McLennan cautions about feeling nostalgic for the past as a golden age of classical music journalism: It wasn't necessary better, just different. Please listen to the full segment at the top of this page and share your thoughts below.



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