The Playgoer: The Arts Journalism Limits of a "Family Newspaper"

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Thursday, October 08, 2009

The Arts Journalism Limits of a "Family Newspaper"

From a Q & A on with culture reporter Robin Pogebrin:

Q. American culture has had — and currently has — naked opera divas, actors and musicians and other degrading aspects of "culture" that a decent person cannot even mention. Does The Times have any policy about reporting these aspects of American culture?

A. The New York Times tries to make its cultural coverage as comprehensive as possible, all the while keeping in mind matters of taste and what makes for appropriate family reading at the breakfast table.

Not an insignificant issue, when you think about where the cultural sensibilities of the contemporary theatre are compared to those of the NY Times, which--based on the evidence of this questioner at least--date from about 1964.

Small case in point: the Times would not print the full titles of important plays like Suzan-Lori Parks' Fuckin' A and Mark Ravenhill's Shopping and Fucking even while reviewing and reporting on them.

Now I'm not saying they have to report on the Off-Off actor who's currently sporting a live erection on stage--but I say that only because the play has not proved itself otherwise newsworthy. What if it had? What if David Mamet or Caryl Churchill wrote it and it was staged at the Public?

Far be it from me to tell NYT to start sullying their pages with...what was the word? oh, "degrading" words and subjects. I'm just saying--they're probably the only newspaper or magazine dedicated to "serious" arts coverage (i.e. maintaining a "standard" for arts coverage) that still censors themselves in this way. So while, for instance, the New Yorker, New York, Time Out, and American Theatre are cursing up a storm and relating to both the culture and the readers by 2009 measures of propriety--the Times will inevitably seem stodgy in comparison to the younger readers of today, who in turn will be the majority readers of tomorrow.

In short they may be imposing on their arts department a significant handicap in dealing with the arts of today. Such are the dilemmas of any news organization striving for "general readership" (i.e. mondo profits). Maybe it's time, for their sake, for some offshoot website, at least???


Rob Weinert-Kendt said...

Forget the F word, the Times wouldn't even print the title "Holy Cross Sucks!" when I reviewed it. But they ran this story:

Playgoer said...

VERY potent point, Rob. Maybe it's just the THEATRE section that's prudish...

As for that article you link to, do you think it was allowed to run because it's porn or because it's "new media"? Either way, both SELL lots more than plays.

And, yes, come to think of it I recall NYT has done a fair amount of porn stories. Family Newspaper indeed!

George Hunka said...

They should meet my family. Though our breakfasts are quite healthy, thank you very much.

J. Kelly said...

The New York Times policy on expletives is seriously fucked up.

They'll review the band Fucked Up, but then tell readers to Google the title of the band's latest album to find out what they're called. I thought the Times was trying to prevent readers from abandoning them for the Internet, but no it's sending readers there to read what they won't print. They won't even print the band's name as F---ed Up. Or even _____ Up. It's a completely nonsensical policy. It drives me UP THE WALL.

The strangest example of this policy came when they wouldn't print the name of the Final Fantasy album He Poos Clouds in a profile of the musician. "Poos" - one of the first words a baby learns - was too explicit for a "family" newspaper.

It's almost funny. Almost. But, ultimately, it makes me feel like old media is the old media and if I want to read about 2009 culture, I should go elsewhere. And it makes me wonder what else in reality is being censored because Mama and Papa Times have deemed it too much for my fragile mind to handle.