Amidst a Coverage Dip, Arts Organizations Invest in In-House Journalists

Theaters, galleries, museums, and symphonies are increasingly hiring in-house writers to produce their own news stories. This cutting out of the middleman helps cultural institutions tell their own stories, though also evokes questions about legitimacy and credibility. 

In the mid-1760s, German writer and thinker Gotthold Ephraim Lessing was hired by the Hamburg National Theatre to be its resident critic of plays and acting. Lessing, one of the great figures of the Enlightenment era, produced a series of treatises on art and drama that are now considered essential scholarly reading for anyone studying the theatre. Yet, despite its cultural value, Lessing's work was not always to the liking of his employers. Despite being on the Theatre's payroll, Lessing refused to be a company shill and was not loathe to expresshis distaste with many a performance. Lessing eventually moved on from the National Theatre, but his writings on the study and practice of drama formed the foundation of what we now know as dramaturgy.

Lessing entered my mind as I read this piece by Peggy McGlone in yesterday's Washington Post. McGlone reports on a recent movement by arts and cultural institutions to hire their own journalists to produce in-house news stories:

"The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra published a story on its Web site about young composers using crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, while the Web sites of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the New Jersey Performing Arts Center featured profiles of pianist Yuja Wang and actress Tovah Feldshuh.

The tactic acknowledges a basic truth of the information age, arts leaders say.

'We can’t wait to be written about anymore,' says John Schreiber, president and chief executive of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. 'We as arts presenters understand that we can’t depend anymore on third parties to tell our stories.'"

What's notable is that we're seeing a new avenue for investment in smart arts journalism, which is certainly a plus. On the other side of the coin, there's the fact that these folks will most likely never be able to write anything which reflects poorly on their employers or the company brand. This evokes concerns about legitimacy and credibility. Can you take seriously any news story rubber-stamped by the arts Kremlin? The best arts journalism is rarely of the "puff piece" variety. 

You can read the full story (linked again below) to learn more about the details of these new writer positions being formed at arts institutions across the country. After reading, let us know what you think.

Read more at The Washington Post

Photo credit: Shots Studio / Shutterstock

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