With newsrooms shrinking, arts journalists become rare and the presence of the arts inside newspapers or TV segments are reduced to advance listings. Daily papers now cover only a fraction of what used to be covered ten years ago, be it concerts, albums, films, TV shows, theater productions, gallery, and museum exhibits.
However, it is important to keep covering the arts for it has been proven they improve individual well-being: 69% of the population believe the art “lift [them] up beyond everyday experiences,” 73% feel the arts give them “pure pleasure to experience and participate in,” and even more important, 81% say the arts are a “positive experience in a troubled world” (Americans for the arts).
Moreover, arts are known for unifying communities: 72% of Americans believe “the arts unify our communities regardless of age, race, ethnicity,” 73% agree that the arts “helps me understand other cultures better,” a perspective observed across all demographic and economic categories (Americans for the arts). Arts are a great way to counter-balance political division and work as a neutral topic that can bring people together.
“The arts are really about telling our personal stories, and those are things that connect all of us regardless of our background and our lived experience,” says Christopher Wynn, Arts & Entertainment Editor of The Dallas Morning News.
The art industry also weights a lot economically. In 2016, the production of all arts and cultural goods in the U.S. added $804 billion to the economy. The nonprofit art industry generates $166.3 billion annually, supports about 4.6 million jobs, and generates $27.5 billion in government revenue.
Yet, despite their benefits and economic impact, the arts are being forgotten in journalists’ work, and journalists whose work was to focus exclusively on art are becoming scarce: in 2011, the Knight Foundation counted about 25% jobs in journalism lost over the previous 5 to 7 years, and as many as 50% of the local arts journalism jobs in the U.S. have simply disappeared. Organizations such as the American Theater Critics Association or the National Society of Film Critics now employ drastically less people than they used to, and art coverage is now mixed up with other positions.
So, cover the arts!
How to cover art in creative ways?
“The beauty in the arts beat is there is no better source for stories that have tension, that have drama, that have issues around money, politics, cultural shifts, identity issues, diversity… You can find all of that in the arts world and through art stories. It’s a great lense for your journalism,” Wynn explains.
Be creative in your coverage, instead of simply annoucing the nex exhibition coming to town. Profile of artists make great pieces. Every city has museum and exhibits that are worth partnering with. Every city even has street art, and they are too a great source for storytelling. Look for subjects everywhere. Think broader stories, like how the likes, shares and selfies on social media have impacted the art experience and how people interact with likes, with artists including the spectator into their piece.
“Take one step back and think: covering arts is not only being a critic or revealing something. It’s also using arts to look at a broader issues like economic developement, or feminism, or racism, or inequality,” says Tom Huang, Assistant Managing Editor for Journalism Initiatives at The Dallas Morning News.
The arts oftentimes reflect national and international trends, which can be a source for great stories. Lots of arts organizations are nonprofits, which are required by law to disclose their IRS Form 990 upon demand: stories can be made about the financial health of arts organizations.
Finally, the arts are always a great excuse for visuals. Unless the story calls for a lack of visual, images and/or videos are always welcome and even recommended for art stories, which can be the chance to tell stories in a different way: making a timelaps of the setting up of the art piece for instance.
The experts shared their thoughts during the webinar How to Cover the Arts on Any Beat by the Poynter Institute.