There’s talk about the state of Austin’s art coverage. Ivan Lozano started it with his review of a review. Then our friends, Scott and David Ohlerking, draw out a wider discussion in the comments. Soon after, Dan Boehl reveals his perspective of the situation. And now Eric Zimmerman wants more than just gossip and news.
This topic is the main reason I started this blog. So it’s only natural that I have some thoughts about it. That and since I’m a freelancer for the Austin Chronicle, I feel like a lot of this flare up is aimed, if not directly, then at least in my general direction.
Let’s start with the quote that points back at me. It feels a little disingenuous because Mr. Zimmerman is aware of what I’ve been up to this summer. But only one thing. I have a couple more professional (i.e. arts related) projects that I have yet to reveal and some more personal distractions keeping me from publishing pensive prose.
The next quote requires a little research. I think we’re in agreement Mr. Ohlerking, but there is a little contradiction and confusion in your comments. On the one hand you extol free blogging because nobody has money, on the other hand you reject the use of interns (which trades labor for experience). There is an important connection there that needs to be investigated.
Your actions are admirable. You give to the community and you don’t expect much in return. But I am willing to bet that isn’t your philosophy when it comes to dealing with your day job. In the corporate/commercial environment you/we expect to get paid for your/our work.
That’s how it goes with Mr. Lozano’s argument. Free blogging is fine if you are self-publishing like this blog you’re reading right now. But if you are contracting for a media company, one with ads and trying to be the alternative to the brick and mortar newspapers and television news, then you should expect compensation. They have revenue, you should see some of it.
To put it another way, “The workman is worthy of his hire.”
We are not alone
This discussion of the dire situation we find arts coverage to be falling into has been happening for a while in other sectors and across the whole newspaper business. The argument comes down to the old print versus blog fight. But all that does is point to the fact that journalism has turned into a freelance industry. Big Media does not seem to see the value in employing full time writers with salary and benefits when a handful of freelancers can get the job done.
The problem with that scenario is that Starbucks is also shedding jobs and the freelancers must find another full time job to support them and their writing habits.
Now to the good stuff
Mr. Boehl is more specific and uses real examples with real names. You may think that I am splitting hairs, but for me, its a world of a difference!
First of all, he mentions “critical writing”, a specific form, as opposed to “quality coverage” which can appear as a listing, preview, review, article or some combination of these.
By using real names and pointing out that Ivan does in fact contribute a lot to the Austin arts, that helps reveal the inter-relationships in our community. That’s important for problem-solving and critiquing. Ivan has admitted that Austin is too small to not have some sort of crossovers with arts entities. And therein lies a big problem. People are afraid to step on toes.
The scarcity of art writing gigs is probably well known, but I want to review them anyways.
Austin-American Stateman – daily newspaper
Austin Chronicle – weekly newspaper
Austin Wide Open – monthly magazine (bet you didn’t even know ’bout them!)
Austin Monthly – monthly magazine
Texas Monthly – monthly magazine
brilliant – monthly magazine
ArtLies – quarterly magazine
Tribeza – quarterly magazine
Cantanker – quarterly magazine
Odic Force – quarterly? magazine
Glasstire – webzine?
…might be good – e.newsletter
A dozen sounds like enough. I guess its the consistency that’s scarce. Apparently, dailies should be all over the arts. There’s a lot of hope being pinned on the two or three consistent sources.
But lets give them the benefit of the doubt. If Austin really is as active as the complaining paints it out to be, then there is plenty of work to be done. More work than just one person can handle. And if you expect intellectually rigorous critical writing from every piece of published text, then maybe expectations are a little off.
Don’t get me wrong. I want wider arts coverage and I want more critical reviews. But its not a dialogue if someone writes and nobody responds. In the two years that my writing has seen print, I’ve received three responses. One of which came from a colleague. I’m not looking for somebody to stroke my ego. My bulging forearms are a testament to how I do enough of that for myself.
What I’m saying is that reviews can not be consumed like gossip. You, the reader, must also think about what was written and what was seen. And let the writer know that you are out there reading. We’re supposed to be in a more engaged time. Each source has a feedback mechanism, use it. Otherwise, we are left with what apparently sells newspapers.
I hope you don’t think I’m being a bully. Especially since I’m seeing kindred thoughts put out into public:
I’ll tell you ’bout what I sees.