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NAJP Study: Arts Coverage Lags Behind Expansion in Cultural Activity Across U.S.
This chart, based on the analysis of more than a dozen local papers, illustrates the shrinking newshole for arts and culture stories.

Arts coverage is not keeping up with the enormous growth in newsworthy cultural activities across the United States, according to a groundbreaking study from Columbia University's National Arts Journalism Program (NAJP).

Reporting the Arts II: News Coverage of Arts and Culture in America, edited by Andras Szanto, Daniel S. Levy and Andrew Tyndall, finds that the widening chasm is creating huge tensions inside newsrooms and cultural institutions and fueling dramatic shifts in the way the arts are covered in America. The downward trends are troubling for newspapers no less than for artists and arts organizations, say the report's editors, because over the long term, newspapers must rely on arts and entertainment coverage to retain and grow readership.

"The re-evaluation of the role of critical reviews is shaping up to be the defining battle in newspaper arts departments for years to come," says Szanto, who oversaw the study and also is director of the NAJP.

Reporting the Arts II gauges the health of arts journalism as the new century unfurls. It returns to the same 10 cities and their newsrooms that formed the basis of the 1999 landmark study Reporting the Arts (RTA) to chronicle changes in the intervening years. The new report compares changes in arts coverage with the evolution of the arts in the analyzed cities.

The study reviews more than 8,747 articles -- from the sample month of October 2003 -- published by daily newspapers in Charlotte (N.C.), Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, Houston, Miami, Philadelphia, Portland (Ore.), Providence (R.I.) and the San Francisco Bay Area. It takes an in-depth look at three national papers, The New York Times, TheWall Street Journal and USA Today; examines arts reporting on network television, online media, the alternative press and the ethnic press; and provides insightful new commentaries by leading arts journalists -- former fellows of the NAJP -- on key emerging trends.

The trends uncovered are not encouraging: while more Americans than ever are participating in cultural activities and the arts have gained in size and complexity, the resources that metro-area newsrooms allocate to the arts are generally flat or in retreat. Overall, there are fewer arts-related articles; newsrooms are devoting more of their arts space to listings; and electronic media are supplanting newspapers as a source for arts coverage.

Further, among arts journalists and editors there is a growing awareness that the existing structures of arts journalism are overloaded and outmoded. At the same time, the "producers of culture" are increasingly experimenting with ways of circumventing mainstream media to attract and inform various audiences.

  • Increasing Gap in Coverage: A weak post-Sept. 11 economy hurt arts organizations as well as the news media. Regardless, cultural activity has continued to grow and become ever more complex, while none of the newspapers tracked increased the newshole for arts journalism, and nearly half of them cut back severely on such coverage.
  • Less Arts Coverage: Arts sections maintained their relative position of prominence at metropolitan newspapers, gaining ground slightly vis-à-vis hard-news sections and losing ground to sports sections. But because newspapers as a whole are shrinking, relative stability translates to less arts coverage than five years ago. With few exceptions, papers are devoting more of their arts space to listings.
  • Shorter Arts Articles: Articles about the arts are shorter now than they were five years ago. Almost every newspaper reviewed cut the average length of its arts stories; all the article cutbacks were directed at articles with staffers' bylines.
  • Film and TV Coverage: Journalism about movies and entertainment television suffered across-the-board cuts at metro newspapers. Interestingly, coverage of music, the performing arts and publishing avoided such general cutbacks, and gained in relative prominence.
  • The New York Times Exception:The New York Times remains preeminent in its volume and diversity of arts coverage. Only the Chicago Tribune and San Francisco Chronicle in the study devoted even as much as half the Times' space to arts and culture.
  • Split in Network TV Journalism: Nightly newscasts continued to pay minimal attention to arts news. Morning programs doubled their interest in the past five years, focusing on celebrity culture and mass entertainment.

The new report is based on a snapshot look at a limited number of news organizations, over a single month, October 2003. However, the larger picture of transforming newsrooms and communities, say the editors, is accurate for the country as a whole. And while the report clearly cannot resolve some of the most urgent issues now confronting arts journalism, Reporting the Arts II is intended to help the news media catch up to new cultural realities, and transform its own routines in the process. The NAJP will be organizing forums nationwide to discuss the implications of the study.

The National Arts Journalism Program is the leading academic center focused on the improvement of arts journalism in the United States . Based at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, in association with Columbia's School of the Arts, the NAJP administers fellowships and training programs for journalists who cover the arts. The NAJP serves as a forum for issues of significance to arts and culture, and to journalism and public policy, through research, publications, panels and conferences that bring together professionals from these fields.

Other activities at the NAJP this fall include "Shifting Ears," a conference on classical music criticism (Oct. 15-17) and an institute for 25 classical music and opera writers sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts.

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Published: Oct 04, 2004
Last modified: Jan 10, 2005

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