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'A National Summit on Arts Journalism' convenes

October 2, 2009 |  5:14 pm

NAJP I spent the morning at "A National Summit on Arts Journalism," held for an invited audience of about 200 at USC's Annenberg School for Communication and also streamed live on the Internet. A prior commitment meant that I missed the final roundtable, "The Business of Arts Journalism" (perhaps a blessing in disguise?). But here are two quick thoughts on the proceedings:

First, as expected, the event was slightly mistitled. It was actually "A National Summit on Internet Arts Journalism," since journalism that originates on and for the Web was pretty much all that was considered. Print publishing, as far as the summit went, is as quaint as a medieval manuscript. And in some ways the Web's potential emerged as a grass-roots version of corporate television, rarely very comfortable with considering the arts.

Second, the program was heavy on the Web as a platform for interactive audience participation, institutionally generated arts information, public relations and event promotion, social networking around the arts and so on. National Arts Journalism Program head Doug McLennan, who co-organized the summit with USC's Sasha Anawalt, said some of the projects chosen for discussion "aren't technically journalism" -- which was perhaps the understatement of the day.

Those that were journalism, even by the loosest definition, tended toward soft news, features and opinion -- all essential components of the topic. However, nowhere to be seen (unless it somehow came up in the business roundtable) were areas such as hard news, longer-form reporting and even investigation, conventionally considered. The omission was odd, but at least a necessary discussion has been opened.

A thorough overview of the program is here.

-- Christopher Knight

Comments () | Archives (4)

I attended and found most of the information useful and insightful. I disagree on Mr. Knight's take on the focus. This was about looking forward and the internet in all its forms is where the future is. Culture Monster is a prime example of where arts journalism is headed. It blends original content with aggregate information. Mr. Knight states "nowhere to be seen (unless it somehow came up in the business roundtable) were areas such as hard news, longer-form reporting and even investigation, conventionally considered." I don't think these ARE the future of arts journalism.

Joan Crawford, meet Gloria Jones. Like Mommie Dearest, Gloria Jones takes her problems with alcohol out on her children. In this memoir, Kaylie Jones, the only daughter of Gloria and the novelist James Jones, recalls a lifetime at the mercy of her occasionally charming but usually drunken mother. Harrowing stuff, to say the least: when 8-year-old Kaylie confronts Gloria about forgetting to pick her up from school, her mother replies, “God, you’re so neurotic!” If there is one constant in the daughter’s relationship with her mother, it is that “fighting back was like throwing oil on fire.” It’s no surprise that as Kaylie Jones’s turbulent young adulthood commences — presaged by the death of her father when she is 16 — she too turns to alcohol to calm the storm within. Years of wanton partying eventually lead Jones, by now a published novelist, to hit rock bottom. With the help of a friend, she makes a successful bid for sobriety. As admirable as this is, Jones’s journey — which includes a stable marriage, a daughter of her own and a transformative passion for tae kwon do — never seems to move beyond a simplistic narrative of addiction and recovery. Couple this with her penchant for name-dropping and irrelevant boasts (she mentions, for instance, that her toddler scores “off the chart” on a verbal development test), and one gets the feeling that her confessional treatment doesn’t quite add up to the whole truth.

The NAJP projects are all fascinating and the people behind them are innovators and deserve recognition.

The projects all appear to be focused on developing highly functional, multi-media rich experiences for their readers and users. They realize that the old ink-on-paper model that has worked for so many decades and centuries is rapidly becoming outdated.

Social media is a constant theme in the presentations, enabling people to stay connected with the things that they care about, causing and influencing the viral spread of news and events. This can work for or against an enterprise, entity, project or cause.

The ‘democratization’ of art, music and news is touched upon in all the presentations. People are now getting to choose what information they want delivered to their desktops and iPhones – not the editor or publisher. Social media plays a big role in this democratization.

The NAJP projects go way beyond simple one-way static pages to become platforms and venues for communities where people connect and share common interests. Consistent, quality information will be rewarded with loyal readers, participants and ultimately consumers.

However I believe that the question of ‘sustainability’ of art journalism projects is still left largely unanswered. How can an individual journalist or small business entrepreneur sustain their efforts in this new age of journalism?

None of the projects really spoke on the subject of what many Internet Marketers know about building Internet-based business. If you can build a large community of like-minded people in a niche-topic that trust and respect the publisher/author/moderator of the venue (website) then you can ultimately ‘monetize’ that community through advertising, permission marketing, referrals, product sales, affiliate marketing, etc.

Although great emphasis was placed upon the ‘flash’ and functionality of the projects, there was no mention of market research. Today, Internet Marketers do market research by performing keyword analysis. Supply and demand can be accurately accessed with commonly available tools.

The page views that a journalist gets will ultimately be determined by the supply and demand of the keyword topic. Google determines relevance by the words that are on the page not by the amount of ‘flash’. Trust, respect and relationship are built by the author(s) over time by providing quality content. Google determines quality by looking at inbound links. Every link to a site is considered a ‘vote’ for that site’s popularity.

"Google determines quality..."

that is a problem, indeed.


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