The Playgoer: Bring on the Niche?

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Bring on the Niche?

Conor Friedersdorf (blogging at the Atlantic for Sullivan) notes the splintering off of much sports journalism (and, hence, readership) from major newspapers. In other words: niche journalism foils the dailies once again. Many, many newspaper sales still depend on their sports sections to sell papers, so when readers turn to ESPN channels and websites (now tailoring to local media markets) it picks off eyeballs from dead-tree land.

Now I'm not saying there's any parallel with arts sections. On the contrary. "We" are depending on those sports fans, too, to subsidize theatre coverage. (No players, no plays.) But Friedersdorf's read on the "disaggregation of newspaper content" reveals some wide-reaching implications, I think.

The disaggregation of newspaper content is an inevitability. Was there civic utility in the fact that a guy going for the sports page happened to see what his local mayor was up to by virtue of flipping through the sections? Sure, but that is a rather small matter. As I see it, "important" news is going to have to stand on its own going forward, and the challenge for those who care about journalism is to nudge the culture toward valuing it properly once the "subsidies" -- the advertising and the sports section and style coverage and all the rest -- aren't available anymore.
I guess what I take away is that...maybe its time to embrace this "disaggregation" for arts coverage. We've already contemplated the bleak scenario of a theatre and theatre companies without newspapers to advertise, promote and cover them. But why wait until it's too late? It's time, maybe, for arts coverage--the kind of good, rigorous, analytical, and truly critical arts coverage featuring many different voices that's already been absent a long time from our "general interest" media--to go solo.

Over the last couple of decades, amidst the rise of the conglomerate media, we saw the theatre-only publication, for instance, vanish. (Remember Theater Week?) But now its time has come again, perhaps. It's only the medium of a print magazine that may be dead. But not the desire for the content.

3 comments:

Alison Croggon said...

This process is already well on the way in Australia, where theatre blogging is go, maybe because we have a strong culture of intelligent review blogs down our east coast that twins with what has always been slim coverage in the dailies. maybe because half the bloggers are also print critics. Perhaps the biggest shift, or the one that made people sit up, was when Theatre Notes was the first blogger to tin the Geraldine Pascall Critic of the Year prize earlier this year, a substantial prize that includes all genres of criticism.

The Playgoer said...

Congratulations, Alison! That's great news--both for you and for all blogging kind.

Yes, the day a blogger wins the George Jean Nathan Award here will indeed be a watershed.

Anonymous said...

This has been obvious for a very long time -- ever since papers like the Voice, the LA Weekly, NY Mag, NY Press, et al -- began the slow erosion of space for theater coverage over the last dozen years. The question, Playgoer, is how people who writ good, rigorous, analytical and truly critical arts coverage to get paid for their labor (and, for those with more reportorial bent, have the time it takes to focus on following a beat.) Or will theater writing only be available as a hobby to the independently wealthy?