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Newspapers coverage of arts vs. entertainment


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#16 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 04 April 2002 - 12:34 PM

Interestingly enough, the daily newspaper I rely on for good arts reporting and reviwing is ... The Wall Street Journal! Whoever edits the "Leisure & Arts" page clearly has a commitment to "the arts" as well as to entertainment and liesure generally. I'm always amazed at the number of column inches devoted to genres with relatively limited audiences -- e.g., an extensive piece that covered Christa Ludwig's series master classes for young lieder singers at Carnegie last year. (Today's edition contains Heidi Walseson's review of several operas performed recently in NYC and an piece by Sheila Melvin about a ballet based on "Raise the Red Lantern" performed by the National Ballet of China in China -- i.e., it's not even a "local" story.) The peices are almost always thoughtful, insightful, and engaging and the dance writing is, in my opinion, much better than anything cranked out by The NYT.

What's interesting to me is that the percentage of the WSJ readership that buys the paper BECAUSE of its arts coverage is undoubtedly miniscule -- I can't imagine that the commitment to regular, high quality arts reporting arises from the belief that it will materially increase circulation. Nor can I imagine that cutting such coverage would make even a tiny dent in circulation. (I'd still buy it, for instance, since I read it for professional reasons.) In short, I don't know why the WSJ has arts reporting at all, much less good arts reporting, but I'm glad it does!

#17 dirac

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Posted 04 April 2002 - 02:09 PM

The Journal is also reacting to readership issues similar to that faced by the Times; increased arts coverage may not seem like a commercial move, but the WSJ is trying to pull in a wider audience than its traditional white-older-guy reader profile. So the heftier arts and feature coverage is part of an attempt to attract readers who are younger and female, and not necessarily business subscribers. Not that they aren't to be applauded for the excellent coverage, but the motive isn't entirely altruistic. :)

#18 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 04 April 2002 - 02:43 PM

Re the WSJ's attempt to broaden its readership: I really know nothing about their strategy in this regard. I do know that they will soon unveil a redesigned front page and a daily "Personal Journal" section which, per the WSJ, "aims to help consumers make decisions important to their pocketbooks and personal lives" -- and this latter certainly seems like an attempt to appeal to a broader base (as I assume the Friday "Weekend Journal" section is), though the focus is still primarily economic / business related. (The "Weekend Journal" section strikes me as very much about how to spend one's money.) The daily arts coverage has been there for a while now, so I don't think it's necessarily a new tactic to broaden the base. However, it's certainly encouraging if it's been done because the folks running the paper believe it will increase readership!

I guess I find the arts coverage puzzling since the WSJ's focus is primarily on economic affairs and the business community; its coverage of non-business events and issues is generally from the perspective of the impact they may have on the business community (or consumers' pocketbooks) and one's professional life (e.g., the personal techonology articles or work/life balance columns) -- and the arts / leisure coverage doesn't quite fit into that paradigm. I'd be interested to know what percentage of its readership wan't primarily interested in its business coverage as professionals, but rather, read it for personal investment guidance or some other reason. But now I'm getting off topic! Bottom line: it has to be a positive that a newspaper primarily focussed on business and the business community covers the arts.

#19 Ari

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Posted 04 April 2002 - 05:43 PM

I wonder if the WSJ's increased arts coverage has anything to do with its ongoing competition with the Financial Times, which has had a highly regarded arts section for many years. By "competition" I don't mean a scramble for readers, because I agree with Kathleen that the number of those who value this kind of coverage is probably a miniscule part of their overall circulation. I'm thinking more in terms of "anything you can do I can do better."

#20 Morris Neighbor

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Posted 05 April 2002 - 12:29 AM

I stand with dirac and Farrell Fan (full disclosure: a personal friend, though we often disagree) in resisting the trend to panic.

A bit of context might be useful here. Only three daily newspapers seek national readership: USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times. The Times stands third in circulation, and views (for obvious reasons) the Journal as its main rival. The Journal has unveiled this week a sweeping re-design, including more emphasis on service features -- "news you can use" in consultant-speak -- and stories about entertainment and recreation. ERGO, the Times seeks to respond with its own added emphasis on service features. The "Dining In/Dining Out" section, for instance, now covers restaurant news from across the country and offers less dish for New York foodies. Friday will bring a regular section on week-end travel. And on and on....

In such a context, it's not surprising to see editors pressing for more prominent coverage of popular culture in the Sunday paper which, after all, provides nearly all of the paper's profits. (Almost every American paper breaks even during the week and makes its profits on Sunday. The Wall Street Journal is the obvious exception, and the Times would love to press this advantage.)

At the same time, I am sure that Howell Raines, like every other senior editor at the paper, cherishes its role as "the newspaper of record." In this context, I am sure that the paper's policy will continue to be to review every dance performance in any major venue, or even a minor venue with a good press agent and good timing. It does keep three full-time critics on its payroll, it does pay to send them to major events around the world, and it pays stringers to write up events that staff critics can't get to.

Are there delays in publishing? Are reviews short? Are there a gazillion demands for space in the paper? Do editors have to make cuts to balance all those competing demands? Is a 300-word review better than no review at all? Given the quotes I have seen in programs and publicity, that 300-word review may serve an emerging dancer or choreographer quite well, thank you.

Finally, let me note that, as our local public radio station slashes its classical music programming (half the surviving music airs after midnight), the Times' WQXR-FM continues to air classical music 24/7. Yes, the programming is conservative and the ads are annoying, but it's the only place you'll hear Bach in the morning. More to the point, if the Times wanted to "maximize shareholder returns," they would have gone to a news-talk format years ago. Their persistence with a commercially outdated format convinces me, at least, that the Times would rather be classy than crass, even if it means reduced profits. And even if it means sending Anna Kisslegoff on yet another trip to Paris and St. Petersburg.

#21 Morris Neighbor

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Posted 05 April 2002 - 12:53 AM

A note to Kathleen O'Connell, from a long-time advertising professional:

In covering the arts and lifestyle issues, the WSJ is seeking to make itself the "primary read" of its customers. In other words, by providing this sort of coverage, they are hoping to increase reliance on their paper and reduce the time their readers spend with other sources -- like, say, The New York Times, or the dominant daily in any other city. The Journal would dearly love to make those other papers "secondary reads" -- i.e. newspapers that get much less attention and therefore command less lucrative ad rates. For most of its history, the Journal itself was the "secondary read," of interest only to investors and executives.

It's also true that, as the business world admits more and more women to its top ranks, "feminine" concerns like arts and recreation are becoming more important in corporate decisions. Stereotypical as this may sound, it was a woman who created "Weekend Journal," which has been a huge commercial success, and she has been the leader of the re-design team.

Finally, you flunked the "frequently misspelled words" test. It's "minuscule."

#22 Tancos

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Posted 05 April 2002 - 06:09 AM

If we're going to flunk BA members for spelling, most will be afraid to post.

#23 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 05 April 2002 - 07:27 AM

Originally posted by Morris Neighbor

In covering the arts and lifestyle issues, the WSJ is seeking to make itself the "primary read" of its customers.  In other words, by providing this sort of coverage, they are hoping to increase reliance on their paper and reduce the time their readers spend with other sources -- like, say, The New York Times, or the dominant daily in any other city.  The Journal would dearly love to make those other papers "secondary reads" -- i.e. newspapers that get much less attention and therefore command less lucrative ad rates. For most of its history, the Journal itself was the "secondary read," of interest only to investors and executives.

Finally, you flunked the "frequently misspelled words" test.  It's "minuscule."


I agree that the WSJ is clearly trying to position itself as more than your dad's source for stock quotes. (Which it must do since no one really relies on newspapers for market quotes or even up-to-the-minute business news anymore. That's what Bloomberg and the internet are for.) I'm a news junkie, so it's difficult for me to imagine the WSJ becoming my "primary read" since it doesn't really cover non-business news. I'm probably somewhat unusual in that I'd continue to buy both the NYT and the WSJ even if they reverted to their old black and white formats of a decade ago -- and dropped arts coverage altogether. Although ... I've noticed that I've begun to do most of my newpaper reading online. My "primary read' is probably the top dozen or so bookmarks in my "favorites" section that I cycle through while I eat breakfast in my office. I *used* to eat breakfast at home to read the paper version of the NYT. (It's amazing what access to a T-1 cable will induce one to do ...).

But I'm drifting off topic again! In any event, I'm definitely on the "let's not panic" end of the spectrum. In many ways, the arts continue to flourish and I think the internet is fostering a new kind of vibrant arts community -- just look at this board. I probably would never have met any of you personally "offline," but I have an opportunity now to paricipate in an ongoing conversation about a cherished art! I don't even bother with the NYT's dance reviews anymore, since I know I have access to much better coverage here! I attend 2+ performances of various types per week, and all are usually playing to capacity or near capacity crowds. It doesn't look like the arts are dying to me.

And yes indeed, I did misspell "minuscule." (And I'd be shocked if that were the only word I'd misspelled. This is what happens when one gets used to automatic spell-checking!)

#24 Morris Neighbor

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Posted 05 April 2002 - 07:27 PM

Kathleen O'Connell really brings this whole discussion to its logical conclusion: in this age of proliferating media, "The Newspaper of Record" is less important than ever.

Still and all, it's nice to know that some mention of every dance performance in New York City will make it into the stacks (real or electronic) of every major library in the world.

In my disquistion on the media, I also forgot to mention that Newsday is also making a new run at Times readers. Clearly, success is its own punishment.

As for "minuscule," I must apologize if I sounded petty or vindictive. Seeing even a minor mistake in a message so elegantly composed and persuasively argued brought out my inner William Safire. I promise to chain him in the dungeon from now on, and sincerely regret any embarrassment I might have caused.

#25 Alexandra

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Posted 05 April 2002 - 10:37 PM

Thank you, MN, for your very gracious post. I hope no one found it petty or vindictive, but we've found we get along better if we don't correct each other. I've heard frightening tales of the opera and skating boards, and I know that there are many sites where much of the fun is in the well-placed barb and the resultant riposte, but we try to do things differently.

Sorry for the administrative intrusion, everyone -- back to this interesting topic :D

#26 Guest_fiafour_*

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Posted 06 April 2002 - 12:38 PM

I have often heard that it is best to write the advertisers instead of the actually paper. (This goes also for complaining to television stations.) They papers and stations often won't care what you think, BUT ADVERTISERS DO.

If you start writing advertisers that you are upset with the change. They will start to realize that their ads are going to reach less people and they will start to pull their slots. The papers will then realize to keep their funding they need to please you.

#27 Alexandra

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Posted 06 April 2002 - 01:17 PM

Good point, fiafour! It's easy to reach advertisers by email, too :cool: Check out who takes out the big ads in your paper's arts section (for lack of a better word) and let them know you are a reader who wants to read about dance (or ballet, or the arts).

#28 Morris Neighbor

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Posted 06 April 2002 - 08:51 PM

If I may briefly invoke my years in the ad game (and my upbringing in the home of a Procter & Gamble executive), I'd point out that some advertisers are more sensitive than others, depending mostly on the paths available to reach their audiences.

MacDonald's, which can use any mass medium, will send its own inpectors to meat plants in response to consumer complaints. Film, theatre, and book advertisers, who *MUST* be in the Times to satisfy their various constituencies, are much less responsive. Indeed, many movie, theatre, and book contracts actually require a certain amount of ads in the paper, so letters in this area are likely to fall on deaf press agents.

With ad rates far too expensive for most dance companies to buy more than a tiny announcement, the dance world has little leverage here. After all, where can they reach so many prospective audience members?


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