The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Newspapers and media continue to cut back on arts writers and critics. What is the effect on the arts? | January 14, 2017

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear got a message from an old friend who gave him a link to a story about the decline of arts criticism in the mainstream media.

“This is not big news to you, but an interesting update that puts the value of your blog in context,” the friend said.

The Ear thinks that the cutback in arts critics hurts local performing artists and also hurts readers who consume the arts as audiences. That is especially important in a city as rich in the arts for its size as Madison. (Below is the Madison Symphony Orchestra playing for a full house.)

MSO playing

Here is a link to the article from the Columbia Journalism Review:

The story earned an interesting response, sort of a constructive dissent from most judgments, from Anne Midgette (below), an arts writer and arts critic who used to work for The New York Times and now works for The Washington Post. Here is a response she posted on Facebook:

“There’s one thing missing from this thoughtful valedictory on newspaper arts writing – the outrage about cutting critics is all very well, but one reason they get cut is that they don’t always have the readership papers want/need (which can be quantified now better than it used to be).

“I think newspapers could help remedy that by putting in more resources and figuring out a strategy for raising the profile of arts writing (and I think arts writers need to focus on thinking about fresh innovative ways to write about their fields, but that’s another story).

“In any case, I think those of us who love the arts need to recognize this as a big factor in the cuts, rather than simply wringing our hands about living in a world of Philistine editors.”

Anne Midgette BIG

What do you think of Anne Midgette’s response? How would you like arts coverage changed and improved?

How good a job do you think the local media do in covering the arts?

What do you think about the overall reduction in arts coverage?

Have you found alternative sources for news and for information, and what are they?

The Ear wants to hear.


  1. Orwell’s observation seems to have a compelling logic about not biting the hand that feeds you. But in practice here he is wrong. The New York Times is happy to print daily ads for Tiffany & Co., high-end real estate, and other “luxury trades,” while at the same time publishing searing arts criticism and reportage. The same is true for Vanity Fair, the longtime home of the late truth-teller Christopher Hitchens. Advertisers need their market, which includes many of the intelligentsia who want the best reporting and criticism.

    Comment by Ron McCrea — January 15, 2017 @ 12:42 am

  2. Anne Midgette’s argument applies perfectly to the Madison scene. We have here in our modest-sized city a musical culture that is extraordinarily rich, vibrant, and diverse, for a wide range of audiences. And what is our journalistic response? Our one-and-a-half newspapers have totally banned any musical criticism. Only the weekly Isthmus gives attention to this musical life, through regular reviews as well as listings and announcements. It is obvious that print journalism is in a precarious situation now, but that is not sufficient reason to abandon a responsibility that newspapers have to their city and their serious readership.

    Comment by John W. Barker — January 14, 2017 @ 10:41 am

    • Anne Midgette wrote: “I think arts writers need to focus on thinking about fresh innovative ways to write about their fields…”

      Certainly that does apply to you since nothing you have written for years has been fresh or innovative.

      Comment by FFlambeau — January 14, 2017 @ 10:27 pm

      • I am not sure what M. Flambeau refers to among my writings on music. My two books on Richard Wagner and the city of Venice? My forthcoming book on the Pro Arte Quartet? My thousands of record reviews for the American Record Guide? My hundreds of concert reviews for Isthmus and the Ear? Even my broadcast programs for station WORT? And just what kind of “fresh and innovative” writing does he now demand of me? Since he seems to be hiding behind a pseudonym, it is the more difficult to pin him down.

        Comment by John W. Barker — January 15, 2017 @ 12:05 am

  3. And what is the effect on our culture (word used in broadest sense)?

    Comment by slfiore — January 14, 2017 @ 7:29 am

  4. I don’t think much of Anne Midgette’s position.

    George Orwell (whose real name was Eric Blair) said it much better although he was not talking about this subject:

    “freedom of the press” really means that it depends on vested interests and largely (through its advertisements) on the luxury trades. Newspapers which would resist treachery can’t take a strong line about cutting down luxuries when they live by advertising chocolates and silk stockings.”

    Source, George Orwell Diaries

    Comment by FFlambeau — January 14, 2017 @ 4:54 am

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