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					the dailies
hometown press performs a juggling act

The arts, along with business and sports, is            all pagination, and in each case more than half
one of the three daily sections that fleshes out the    that section’s arts and culture column inches were
hard news in Section A to turn a local newspaper        devoted to the TV beat. And even that statistic
into a rounded information package. All three           understates the dominance of television. Because
combine journalism with columns and columns             the focus of this project was on arts and culture,
of lists in agate type: The sports section has the      we only examined coverage of TV drama, comedy,
box scores; the business section has the stock          made-for-TV movies, documentaries and other
listings; the arts section—variously called “The        entertainment. Counting coverage of TV news
Arts,” “Entertainment,” “Life,” “Living,” “Lifestyle”   and TV sports, which fall outside the arts and cul-
or some such—has a backbone of the daily TV             ture category, would have made the overall pres-
listings on which to hang its broader coverage of       ence of television seem even larger.
arts and culture.                                            A newspaper’s decision about whether or not
     In our study of arts and culture coverage in       to have a substantial daily arts section does not
15 daily newspapers in ten cities—Charlotte,            necessarily reflect its overall commitment to the
Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, Houston, Miami,             arts and culture beat as a whole. Even though the
Philadelphia, Portland, Providence and the San          arts may receive only cursory daily attention,
Francisco Bay Area—during the month of                  some newspapers provide detailed coverage at
October 1998, these daily arts sections were usu-       the weekend instead. These once-a-week arts
ally the small sibling of the three. There were a       supplements, often distributed as a Friday
few instances in which the arts section was more
prominent. The Houston Chronicle and the
Oakland Tribune made it bigger than business,
while the San Francisco Chronicle made it bigger
than both. But on average the everyday arts sec-
tion took the smallest share (7%, vs. 11% for
sports and 9% for business) of the newspapers’
collective pagination.
     At some of the newspapers, the section is
skimpy and it would be a stretch indeed to claim
that it represented a serious effort at reporting on
the artistic and cultural life of a community.
Newspapers such as the Charlotte Observer and
the Rocky Mountain News have daily arts sections
that are little more than television-plus: They are
small, averaging only 5% of the newspaper’s over-

tabloid entertainment guide, also have a sub-           offers one answer. What newspapers can unique-
stantial volume of arts listings. They have very        ly offer their readership may not be the journalis-
little television, but comprehensive calendar           tic activity of reporting on and reviewing arts
information on virtually everything else. Starting      and culture. Instead they offer the clerical service
times for movies, live music, theater and other         of compiling and displaying comprehensive local
performing arts, business hours for art galleries       listings. Thus their readers can experience the
and museums, free activities, children’s events as      artistic creations that were produced in
well as participatory activities all find their home    Hollywood, scheduled by television networks or
in these sections. In two of them—the Cleveland         published by New York City imprints. This cleri-
Plain Dealer’s “Friday Entertainment” and the           cal activity is much more amenable than regular
Denver Post’s voluminous “Weekend Scene”—               journalism to the improvements in efficiency and
over half of the editorial space is taken up by list-   productivity that modern technology affords, and
ings instead of journalism.                             listings are perfectly suited to be converted from
                                                        print to an online medium. None of the newspa-
National or Local                                       pers we studied went so far as to spend more arts
     If the daily arts section is dominated by tele-    and culture column inches on listings than on
vision, the weekend coverage of the movies takes        stories—but the Denver Post at 49%, the
up more space than any other type of artistic           Providence Journal at 47% and the Houston
activity. On average, one quarter of all the edito-     Chronicle at 46% came very close.
rial space in the weekend supplements is devot-
ed to movie listings and stories. In the San Jose
Mercury News that proportion was as high as
33%, and in the Miami Herald it was 43%.
Movies, whether produced by Hollywood or
independents, are almost always released
nationally. Television programming consists
mostly of nationally distributed network and
cable fare. Add to these two the publishing
industry, whose marketing of books relies on
national chains, and these three media represent
more than half the content of these local news-
papers’ arts and culture coverage.
     So what distinctive advantage can the local
news media claim in covering what are essential-
ly national beats? The prevalence of listings

                                                                                             NATIONAL ARTS JOURNALISM PROGRAM 17
                          Decisions, Decisions
                               When newspaper publishers approach the
                          arts and culture beat, they have three sets of
                          decisions to make. Should it be presented prima-
                          rily in a daily section or in a once-a-week supple-
                          ment? How should their overall editorial space
                          be divided between stories, their journalistic
                          product; and listings, their clerical one? And
                          most important of all, how much prominence do
                          they believe the arts should have?
                               That decision concerns both presentation
                          and substance. First, where do the arts sections
                          stand in the overall newspaper? Construed nar-
                          rowly, the coverage that goes under the explicit
                          label of “the arts” extends only as far as televi-
                          sion, movies, music, and the performing and
                          visual arts. In Cleveland the arts are an undiluted
                          but circumscribed beat. For example, the daily
                          arts section of the Cleveland Plain Dealer,
                          “Entertainment,” is unusually segregated from a
                          companion daily lifestyle section called “Living.”
                          The Charlotte Observer, on the other hand, offers
                          a daily dose of “Living”-plus-something-else,
                          combining such subjects as theater, music and
                          museums with food, fashion and religion. In
                          Charlotte, arts and entertainment appear as one
                          facet of the larger feature beat, diluted and
                          broadly construed.
                               The arts sections can dominate the so-called
                          feature pages of a newspaper, organizing a
                          sprawling array of topics that range from cultural
                          production through the decorative arts, to topics
                          that are outside the domain of arts and culture
                          altogether such as food, shopping, recreation and
                          the comics. Alternatively, the arts may occupy
                          just one feature section among many. Besides the
                          Cleveland Plain Dealer, newspapers as different
                          as the Chicago Tribune and the Providence
                          Journal devote more than 20% of their overall
                          pagination to non-arts feature sections. All three
                          newspapers routinely present their coverage of
                          architecture, fashion, design, crafts and
                          antiques—topics we consider to be a proper
                          province of arts and culture journalism—outside
                          their designated arts sections. The Miami
                          Herald even puts publishing outside the arts and
                          culture context, presenting its book reviews as
                          part of its “Week in Review” section.
                               Second, the publisher must decide what
                          resources to devote to covering arts and culture
                          stories—listings aside—no matter which section
                          format the newspaper happens to adopt. Our
                          study compared an array of daily newspapers,
                          those in large markets and small, local and
                          national, in single-paper markets and those with
                          competitors. Devoting more than 8,000 column

inches to arts and culture stories in a month rep-      tion of the national edition’s pagination, its daily
resents an enormous commitment for a small-             arts section was larger than sports—although
city newspaper like the Oregonian. The readers          business was bigger still. Neither were those
of the Houston Chronicle, who got to read an            other two factors at work, which in other news-
equivalent volume of journalism, were benefici-         papers can lead to an inflated daily arts section.
aries of a much less impressive proportion of that      The arts had not expanded at the expense of
monumental publication’s efforts. Similarly,            other feature sections—which accounted for an
fewer than 9,000 column inches a month writ-            unusually high 23% of the overall pagination—or
ten in the snappier style demanded by a tabloid         at the expense of the weekend supplements.
such as the Chicago Sun-Times, may represent
no less a commitment than the broadsheet                New York, New York
Chicago Tribune’s 11,000.                                   New York City’s role as the national center for
                                                        three major cultural sectors—book publishing,
Big City Beat                                           Broadway theater and the visual arts—was
     Volume and proportion—a newspaper with             reflected in the Times’ arts and culture coverage.
an extensive commitment to coverage of arts and         Obviously, because of the sheer volume of col-
culture must deliver both, not only the gross           umn inches that the Times lavishes on the arts, it
number of column inches, but also a large pro-          writes more than other newspapers about every
portion of its pagination to a combination of the       sector. But the prominence it afforded books and
daily and the weekly arts sections. Both things         the performing arts was unusual even in percent-
considered, this study found that extensive arts        age terms. Mostly because of its Sunday “Book
and culture journalism is the province of big city      Review,” almost one quarter of the space the
dailies. The Chicago Tribune provided the most          Times devotes to arts and culture journalism is
column inches. The Philadelphia Inquirer, the           about books. Among local newspapers, only the
Chicago Sun-Times and the two San Francisco             Miami Herald, the Rocky Mountain News and
papers (who co-produce their Sunday edition so          the Charlotte Observer exceeded 20%. The per-
its huge weekend “Datebook” supplement goes to          forming arts, mostly theater and dance, ranked
both sets of readers and is counted twice in this       as the Times’ third most important area (18% of
study) devoted the largest share of their pagina-       coverage vs. 19% for movies, 24% for books) of
tion to arts sections. Conversely, the papers with      cultural production. Only the Oakland Tribune
the smallest volume of coverage were the                gave performance more than 15% of its space
Charlotte Observer, the Providence Journal and          among the local newspapers.
the Oakland Tribune and those with the smallest             By contrast, television, that staple of daily
proportion of space were the Providence Journal         arts and culture journalism, gets short shrift at
and the Denver Post.                                    the Times even though the networks are based in
     The notion that arts and culture is a big city     the Big Apple. Only relatively speaking, of
beat is confirmed by the avalanche of coverage          course—because of the sheer size of its arts sec-
provided by the national edition of The New York        tions, the Times actually has more TV column
Times. Its sheer volume of column inches (list-         inches than every local newspaper in our study
ings excluded)—over 19,000 in a single month—           except for the listings-heavy Houston Chronicle
almost matched the arts and culture coverage of         and the Philadelphia Inquirer. But with televi-
the second city’s two dailies, the Tribune and the      sion representing only 5% of all arts and culture
Sun-Times, combined. In contrast, the monthly           stories, the Times is the only newspaper that
average for all 15 metropolitan dailies in our          devotes less space to television than to the visual
study was just over 8,000 column inches.                arts of painting, sculpture and photography.
Listings accounted for an unusually small 27% of            For national coverage of television, USA
the total space the Times devoted to the arts           Today is a specialist. Overall, it has less than one
(compared with a 40% average for the 15 local           quarter of the Times’ volume of arts and culture
newspapers) confirming the fact that the provi-         coverage, but its daily arts section takes up a
sion of listings is a local, not national, specialty.   larger proportion of the newspaper’s overall pagi-
     Was the explanation for this high volume           nation than the Times’ does (13% vs. 10%) and
that the Times covers everything in greater depth       more than half of its daily arts and culture space
than other newspapers? Or does the “Gray Lady”          is devoted to stories and listings about television.
have an unusually detailed commitment to the            With a large daily arts section, few other feature
arts? The answer is not only the former, but            sections, a small weekend effort and its focus on
remarkably, the latter as well. Stated as a propor-     television, USA Today is configured like the

                                                                                            NATIONAL ARTS JOURNALISM PROGRAM   19
                          Oakland Tribune, one local newspaper in our
                          study with a minor commitment to comprehen-
                          sive arts and culture coverage. But even USA
                          Today had more arts and culture coverage than
                          the third national newspaper in our study, the
                          Wall Street Journal, whose volume of arts and
                          culture coverage was slightly more than one-
                          tenth of that found in The New York Times. If
                          many local newspapers are attempting to show-
                          case the arts, along with sports and business, as
                          regular sections to round out their daily product,
                          the Journal, true to its Wall Street roots, pro-
                          vides a clear-cut alternative. With 57% of its
                          pages devoted to business, it sets aside a mere 1%
                          to daily arts, and its sports section does not exist.

                          High Road or Low Road?
                              One major mission of this study of arts and
                          culture coverage in metropolitan daily newspa-
                          pers was to discover whether fine arts or mass
                          entertainment held sway. What face of the cul-
                          tural scene did these newspapers present?
                          Highbrow or mainstream? Commercial or not-
                          for-profit? Elite or populist?
                              High or low—it is a convenient dichotomy—
                          the edifying and inspirational vs. the superficial
                          and the entertaining. One addresses the very
                          soul of its individual audience member. The
                          other treats its audience as an undifferentiated
                          demographic to be accumulated for profit.
                              It is a convenient dichotomy, but one that
                          this study found to be confusing in describing
                          what a newspaper does. First, its readers’ daily
                          artistic and cultural life is obviously a mixture of
                          high and low elements; a newspaper would be
                          blinding itself to that fact by taking one road or
                          the other. Blending and mixing high art and
                          mass culture—searching out the places where
                          they overlap—comes more naturally to the nov-
                          elty-seeking taste of a newspaper. In the month
                          of our study, for example, the Charlotte
                          Observer offered a detailed investigation of
                          Elton John’s reworking of “Aida”; the
                          Philadelphia Inquirer (whose beat extends to
                          Atlantic City) examined how a fine art gallery
                          might attract tourists to Las Vegas’ new Bellagio
                          Hotel; and the Cleveland Plain Dealer offered
                          an extensive review of a PBS television produc-
                          tion of “King Lear.”
                              Second, we found that newspapers are ill-
                          equipped to become specialists in either the high
                          road or the low road uniquely. Coverage of televi-
                          sion (in daily arts sections) and movies (in week-
                          end supplements) is a part of a newspaper’s pri-
                          mary responsibility. Ignoring these mass media

would be as unthinkable as ignoring the box
scores in the sports section. On the other hand,
these local newspapers, with massive investments
in once-a-week supplements, would be equally
remiss if they decided to put all their eggs in the
entertainment basket. Neither their format nor
their staffing equip them to compete head-to-
head with those national organs whose specialty
is daily coverage of the Hollywood-based, celebri-
ty-oriented mass media.
     Instead of high and low, our results suggest
other parameters for measuring a newspaper’s
approach to the arts and culture beat. Is it jour-
nalistic (writing articles) or clerical (providing
listings)? Is it daily (news-based but ephemeral)
or weekly (feature-driven but more permanent)?
Is it local (a newspaper’s unique niche) or nation-   in the arts sections. News about celebrities may
al (artistic product made for a national audience     be trivial, but it is also ephemeral. It therefore
but also covered by national media)? And finally,     must be delivered daily, otherwise it gets stale.
this study proposes the dichotomy of accessible       So none of the newspapers made gossip columns
vs. esoteric instead of high vs. low.                 a staple of their weekly arts supplements and
     We isolated three sets of editorial choices to   three of them—the Chicago Tribune, the Miami
determine where a given newspaper’s priorities        Herald and the Charlotte Observer—incorporat-
lie—story assignment, story selection and story       ed their daily celebrity round-ups into general
placement. A newspaper tells its readers what it      news rather than their everyday arts sections.
considers most important by the reporters and         Only three of the 15 newspapers gave gossip a
critics it hires, by where it decides to assign       prominent role in their daily arts sections. The
them, by what individual artistic and cultural        Oregonian and the Philadelphia Inquirer each
events it covers most heavily and by what sto-        devoted more than 20% of their daily story
ries it chooses as its leads to headline its daily    space to gossip and the Chicago Sun-Times rou-
arts section and its weekend supplements. Our         tinely placed Bill Zwecker’s celebrity column on
findings isolated four important ways in which        its arts front page.
these newspapers avoided the Hollywood-                    Third, all of the newspapers had a strong
based, celebrity-oriented, mass-media formula         commitment to reviewing artistic and cultural
that a magazine like Entertainment Weekly or a        productions as opposed to merely focusing on
daily television program like “Entertainment          publicity and fluff. And film—the media industry
Tonight” offers.                                      whose publicity apparatus is probably the most
                                                      sophisticated—was among the most heavily
Where’s the Glitz?                                    reviewed of all. Overall, more than one-third of
    First, television was afforded surprisingly       all editorial space assigned to arts and culture
low prominence. This is surprising because, by        stories was devoted to film reviews. Not surpris-
volume, coverage of television appears to be one      ingly, publishing received the highest propor-
of a daily newspaper’s major services. Stories        tion—53% of all book articles were reviews. But
and listings occupied on average more than            movies came in second at 44%. The two San
25% of the overall space these newspapers             Francisco papers—mostly in their shared Sunday
devoted to arts and culture, yet almost all of this   “Datebook” supplement—devoted more than half
coverage was relegated to a section’s final pages.    of their coverage of movies to critical reviews.
In only four of the 15 newspapers did television           Fourth, the month we studied—October
stories regularly qualify for the headlines in the    1998—happened to include the week-long high-
daily arts section: the Cleveland Plain Dealer,       fashion shows in London, Paris and Milan. A
the Miami Herald, the Providence Journal and          newspaper that sought a glamorous, celebrity-
the San Francisco Chronicle.                          oriented image for its arts and culture coverage
    Second, gossip and celebrity columns were a       would have given these shows pride of place. But
daily feature of every newspaper, but these sto-      only five of the 15 newspapers made high fashion
ries, too, were rarely given prominent positions      a high priority. The Cleveland Plain Dealer,

                                                                                        NATIONAL ARTS JOURNALISM PROGRAM   21
which featured fashion writer Janet McCue             cities that are too small to support a large staff,
extensively, and the Houston Chronicle both           this can lead to a lack of coverage of those beats
devoted more space to Milan than to any other         in which a local reporter would be an unrivaled
single artistic or cultural production in that        expert—the local music scene, galleries, theater
month. The Philadelphia Inquirer, meanwhile,          and other performance. The Charlotte Observer
paid an extensive tribute to the just-closed-up       and the Providence Journal, two of the smallest
house of Isaac Mizrahi, and the Rocky Mountain        newspapers in our study, fell into this trap. Both
News relied on syndicated fashion articles in its     ran the fewest local reviews (25% and 23% of
non-arts features sections.                           overall story space respectively vs. a 35% aver-
     The other newspaper that treated high fash-      age) and skimped on coverage of the theater and
ion as an important feature beat was the San          music (specifically classical music in Charlotte),
Francisco Chronicle. This newspaper illustrates       while their television coverage occupied a higher
that it is not the presence of a given type of arts   percentage of space compared to any of the
coverage that evinces its editorial philosophy, but   other publications.
its prominence. The Chronicle gave extensive
space to high fashion and to interior decor, and      Outside Help
John Carman was routinely given the arts sec-              Not all arts coverage is written by the news-
tion lead to write about television—“P-phooey on      paper’s own staff. Local coverage can easily be
‘Pfeiffer’ the Decade’s Worst Show”. . . “Plots Run   supplemented by freelancers and national cover-
Thick As Irish Stew on ‘Trinity’”—yet no one          age by syndicates. The Providence Journal, for
would characterize its arts coverage as negligent     example, devoted the highest proportion of its
of high culture. Cheek by jowl with “The Secret       space to the two national beats of television and
Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer”—a soon-to-be-can-          the movies (45% vs. a 36% 15-newspaper-aver-
celed UPN situation comedy about Abraham              age) and headlined its daily arts section with syn-
Lincoln’s White House—the Chronicle ran               dicated previews of such made-for-TV movies
reviews of the likes of “Tristan und Isolde” and      such as Ann-Margret in “Life of the Party,” James
Bill T. Jones as well as an op-ed appreciation of     Garner in “Legalese” and the return of “CHiPS.”
Frank Sinatra and a feature piece on Charles          The San Jose Mercury News made least use of its
Mingus. The Chronicle’s approach is quintessen-       own staffers to cover arts and culture. During the
tial of a general preference to blend high and low    month of our study, syndicates accounted for
rather than choosing one path over another.           almost as many articles as its own reporters. It
                                                      was the only newspaper out of the 15 in which
Uniquely Qualified                                    staffers accounted for fewer than half the articles
    Of course, most newspapers do not report on       in its weekend supplement.
such a culture-rich environment as the San                 Two other smaller newspapers, the Oakland
Francisco Bay Area. For most newspapers, it is        Tribune and the Oregonian, also used syndicates
not so easy to achieve a deft mixture of in-depth     heavily, but for a different reason. Rather than
coverage of the national mass media with more         giving prominence to the syndicated fare, they
local and more highbrow art. These are the            used it to free their own reporters to cover the
horns of the dilemma. If a newspaper ignores          local arts scene. In Oakland, the performing arts
those artistic media that most of its readers enjoy   occupied a higher share of overall arts and cul-
most of the time—network television, Hollywood        ture coverage than in any of the other newspa-
movies, recorded music, mass-market publish-          pers studied, and Chad Jones’ theater reviews
ing—it looks hidebound and out of touch. But          were a staple of the front page of the arts section.
the mass media’s own industrial economies of          In Portland, the music scene was more heavily
scale dictate that they are national, or local, in    represented than in any other newspaper except
scope. A local newspaper has no special claim to      the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The Oregonian had
expertise in them compared with national news-        the second most articles on rock ’n’ roll, the
papers, entertainment magazines and specialist        greatest number on R&B and hip hop, and the
cable television channels.                            greatest number on the local music scene.
    So if a local newspaper’s assignment desk              The use of syndicated content can thus be a
found itself giving top priority to these national    cost-effective way for a newspaper to cover the
beats, it would be deploying its cultural             national entertainment media and still have
reporters in areas of intense competition, areas      resources left for local specialization. Similarly,
they would not be uniquely qualified to cover. In     using freelancers can expand the range of local

arts coverage. The Chicago Tribune specialized        way to guarantee heavy coverage of the local arts
in freelance assignments, averaging almost four       scene. The Cleveland Plain Dealer, for example,
such articles daily. It was the only newspaper to     ran half as many freelance reviews as the
run more freelance stories than syndicated            Chicago Tribune, yet ran more articles on dance,
ones. At the Tribune, more articles were writ-        rock ’n’ roll and classical music. Music beat
ten about local theater than at any of the other      staffer John Soeder, for example, was regularly
15 newspapers, and its coverage of opera,             given the lead of the Plain Dealer’s daily
dance, jazz and other locally produced arts was       “Entertainment” section for articles on the likes
heavier than average. Critical reviews were the       of R.E.M., Barenaked Ladies and the Afghan
hallmark of the Tribune’s arts coverage. The          Whigs. But two large metropolitan daily news-
paper ran the most reviews of any of the papers       papers, the Houston Chronicle and the Miami
in the study, averaging more than 50 a week.          Herald, are counterexamples. They used fewer
This was accomplished, in part, by a heavy            freelancers to cover the arts than any of the
reliance on freelancers. In most other newspa-        other newspapers and ranked near the bottom
pers, reviews were more likely to appear in the       in their coverage of both music and the perform-
weekend arts supplement—only in the Chicago           ing arts. Instead of such local pieces, they relied
Tribune were they as commonly seen on a daily         on the national mass media for headline fare.
basis. And the Tribune was the only newspaper         Houston’s daily arts section would routinely fea-
of the 15 to devote the majority of its coverage      ture a Jeff Millar movie review, with such prod-
of music to reviews.                                  uct as “Antz,” “Clay Pigeons,” “Practical Magic”
    Less committed, but still unusually high in       and “Holy Man” warranting lead status. In
their freelance assignments were the Oregonian        Miami, television was given unusual promi-
and the Philadelphia Inquirer. Both newspapers        nence as the arts section lead.
provided unusually intensive coverage of the              One important local artistic medium was
local arts. In contrast to the Oregonian’s focus on   almost universally ignored by the 15 newspapers
rock ’n’ roll and R&B, the Inquirer headlined         in the study—radio. Only the two Chicago papers
classical music, averaging more than one article      and the Philadelphia Inquirer ran more than an
each day on that beat, more than any other news-      occasional article on the programming options
paper of the 15 except for the Plain Dealer in        available for what is a primary listening source
Cleveland. The big Philadelphia story in October      for music of all types. The Chicago Tribune also
1998 was the return of conductor Riccardo Muti        ran a major feature on public radio’s “This
to the podium of the Philadelphia Symphony,           American Life,” a locally produced but nationally
warranting not only the cover story in the            syndicated narrative-documentary show. Among
Inquirer’s weekend arts supplement, but also          the national media, the burgeoning field of video
breaking news coverage in the metro section.          games—whose revenues are now on a par with
    Admittedly, hiring freelancers is not the only    that of Hollywood movies—was also all but invisi-

                                                                                         NATIONAL ARTS JOURNALISM PROGRAM   23
ble. This study revealed a couple of prime oppor-     than the daily news cycle, that the shortage of
tunities. Freelancers could offer their local news-   news is no surprise.
papers a regular radio column, and a national             The supplements ran features instead. While
syndicator could launch a video game column for       a run-of-the-mill movie, book, play, or musical
newspapers seeking to give their arts and culture     act might receive a routine review, the very
coverage a younger demographic profile.               biggest arts and culture stories in these weekend
                                                      supplements received extensive extra coverage—
Not Newsworthy                                        profiles, trend pieces, interviews, backgrounders.
     In each artistic field there were a few          This strong promotional role became print
breaking news stories during October 1998.            media’s signature contribution to the publicity
There were obituaries: singing cowboy Gene            and marketing machine that tries to turn indi-
Autry, former Hollywood child star Roddy              vidual cultural productions into must-see events.
McDowall, polka king Frank Yankovic. In the           It was rare, however, that any mass-entertain-
world of television, late night talk show host        ment nationally produced, heavily hyped movie
David Letterman’s schizophrenic stalker, made         or television show should be the beneficiary of
famous by the tabloids, committed suicide, and        such attention. By and large, these local newspa-
the teen-oriented drama “Felicity” stirred a          pers resisted deploying this considerable appara-
faux-scandal when a teenage screenwriter was          tus frivolously. This did not mean that they were
exposed as a 32-year-old. In the world of let-        loath to engage in promotion. They just pre-
ters, the Nobel Prize for Literature was award-       ferred to expend their energies on worthy causes.
ed to the Portuguese writer José Saramago.
The National Gallery in Washington, D.C. set          Civic Virtues
an attendance record with its Vincent van                 In this context, “worthy” meant either civic
Gogh exhibit. And there was a tempest off-            virtue or high art. When a cultural institution—
Broadway in New York City over whether the            whether a local museum or Oprah Winfrey—
anti-clerical play “Corpus Christi” crossed the       happened to have made the effort to take high
line into blasphemy.                                  art and popularize it for the masses, newspapers
     It is a marker of how much arts and culture      were enthusiastic endorsers. Exhibit A during
is a features—as opposed to a news—beat that          October 1998 was Winfrey’s movie “Beloved,”
so few of these news events received detailed         based on Toni Morrison’s prize-winning novel.
coverage by any of the newspapers we studied.         There was no surprise that it was the single most
When the top ten most heavily covered individ-        heavily covered artistic production by the
ual stories, artistic events or productions were      Chicago Sun-Times, since the second city is
ranked for each newspaper, arts news rarely           Winfrey’s home. But the movie also topped the
cracked the list. So much arts and culture cover-     top ten at the Denver Post, the Miami Herald,
age appears in weekend supplements, which are         the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Providence
intentionally designed to have a longer shelf life    Journal and the San Francisco Examiner and

was the single most heavily covered movie at five   Art for the Masses
of the remaining nine newspapers.                        A major goal of this study was to discover
    Painting and the visual arts usually fare       whether, crudely put, major metropolitan news-
poorly in terms of volume of arts coverage, but     papers were elitist or populist. In their
not when a local museum runs a blockbuster          approach to arts and culture did they focus on
show: Caravaggio at the North Carolina              high art from a critical perspective? Or did they
Museum led the Charlotte Observer’s coverage;       engage in publicity and promotion for the pur-
Mary Cassatt at the Art Institute of Chicago        veyors of mass entertainment?
received extensive coverage from the Tribune             Our answer defies those categories. Mass
and the Sun-Times; the Native-American artist       entertainment was frequently grist for critical
Tim Roybal was covered in depth by the Denver       reviews. High-minded and civically virtuous
Post; and Richard Diebenkorn at San                 high art was often rewarded with extensive free
Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art made a             publicity. The marketing officers of major muse-
splash in both the Chronicle and the Examiner.      ums and artistic centers should therefore feel
    In Chicago and Cleveland, two historic the-     encouraged in their pursuit of blockbuster high-
aters—the Oriental and the Allen—were reno-         art exhibitions. High art—if it was produced,
vated and reopened and rewarded with detailed       presented or marketed in a way that made it
coverage in the Tribune and the Plain Dealer        engage a mainstream audience—attracted the
respectively. The $17 million expansion of the      most comprehensive and prominent coverage of
Berkeley Repertory was the number-one story         all artistic categories.
in the Oakland Tribune while next door in                This is the most important finding of this
Silicon Valley, the opening of the Tech Museum      study for presenters of arts and culture, whether
was a major story for all Bay Area publications.    they are in the commercial sphere—such as
Such cultural institutions are not only signifi-    Hollywood studios, record companies, publish-
cant to the renewal of urban areas, they also       ing houses or television networks—or not-for-
attract tourists. Similarly, in Denver and          profit—such as museums, opera companies,
Chicago, annual film festivals made movie cov-      symphony orchestras, theater companies or
erage less national and more local in scope. In     dance troupes. If they make art of high quality
San Francisco the annual jazz festival received     that is accessible to a wide audience, they will
detailed coverage from the Chronicle, the           find newspaper editors and journalists predis-
Examiner and the Oakland Tribune.                   posed to give them pride of place.
                                                                                    —Andrew Tyndall

                                                                                     NATIONAL ARTS JOURNALISM PROGRAM   25

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