Earlier this week, The New York Daily News slashed 50% of its staff. One of those let go was arts reporter Joe Dziemianowicz. Dziemianowicz had been with the paper since 2000 and covered theater for the tabloid.
That the Daily News retained arts reporters is, in some ways, a miracle. It's a disturbing trend in journalism that sees arts writers as one of the first reporters to be axed during layoffs.
In a story for American Theatre, David Cote recalls being asked to profile the nation’s 12 most influential theatre critics in 2011 — only to discover that by November 2017, half were gone, either because of retirements, buyouts or termination. He adds that some who lost their full-time staff jobs are now freelancing, but none have found permanent work with benefits.
Cote, the former chief drama critic of Time Out New York (2003-2017), unpacked the economic reality of advertising vs. arts writing and suggests ways critics can continue to do their work, including self-publishing or finding work with funded niche publications, like 4Columns.
Both are solid solutions, but what is the cost to local communities and the arts as coverage is decimated?
In 2016, when The New York Times ended its tri-state regional coverage, including restaurants, art galleries, theaters and commercial and nonprofit businesses, the effect was felt across arts communities.
In a story with Deadline at the time, those whose livelihood depended on the health of those businesses expressed concern about the impact on patronage. For nonprofits, the coverage loss affects their ability to raise funds.
Bram Lewis, artistic director of the Schoolhouse Theater in Croton Falls, New York, (50 miles north of Manhattan), stated: “For all of us in the arts, this decision is an unmitigated disaster. Our record will be gone. The 50% jump in box office will be gone. The support in funding with a Times review will be gone.”
This new arts reality is due, in part, to new media models and the effect of digital advertising on a publication’s ability to survive.
New models relying on clicks and an article’s ability to attract the most attention across social-media platforms have placed a premium on the popularity of a topic, rather than its importance to the rich fabric that defines local communities.
The Daily News did lose a sports reporter in the latest round of layoffs, but a 2017 article from the Columbia Journalism Review notes that such positions and the industry it covers are rarely impacted when a publication downsizes.
In many ways, the arts are as endangered as quality journalism. Through a loss of coverage, they stand to lose more economic support. As the publishing industry struggles to determine its own survival, the precariousness of both tears at the larger fabric of society.
In an idealistic world, those controlling the money and content would view journalism as a necessary function of society.
Journalism is meant to serve the people, whether covering politics, local news, sports or the arts. To sustain local and investigative journalism, often at the mercy of digital advertising, new models are being created. Paid subscriptions to online news publishers are growing in many markets worldwide.
Also in the mix: The News Project (TNP), a publishing platform company formed by media executive Merrill Brown in May. Also, in December 2017, ProPublica selected seven newsrooms and local reporters for its Local Reporting Network. It will provide monetary support to investigative reporters and their year-long projects at regional news organizations this year.