Many arts supporters are just regaining their breath after the cuts, no cuts, debacle around the Literary Press Group of Canada, which sent waves of disbelief and frustration across the publishing community. But it’s not time to celebrate yet; now the Postmedia Network has announced a slew of job cuts at Canada’s major city newspapers, which have already had repercussions for cultural reporting.
Around 20 positions will be removed in the coming months at the Montreal Gazette, Ottawa Citizen, and Vancouver Sun, with the Edmonton Journal citing “staffing reductions as yet unnumbered,” according to the CBC. At the Sun, reporter Kevin Griffin announced the end of the newspaper’s Visual Arts & Dance beat, in a post that was then deleted from the paper’s Culture Seen blog.
The media industry’s various belt tightenings are hardly surprising anymore. But this latest round has arts organizations, marketers, and supporters wondering in what other ways cultural coverage will be affected. As ad pages flutter away, so does the mainstream space in which to vie for eyes and attention.
Certainly Postmedia’s decision to centralize the production of non-local pages is troubling. If it’s the thin edge of the cost-cutting wedge, homogenization of arts reporting could be next. After all, reprinting a national story requires fewer resources than bespoke, local pieces.
For many culture organizations, these changes will necessitate the further development of online relationships — courting bloggers and local websites. But the formula for this is still being tested. Marketers find themselves cultivating smaller groups of readers spread over a larger number of outlets — an approach that can feel like more work for less impact.
And the focus on smaller, online outlets will no doubt fuel the centuries-old (and now digital) debate on the role of the critic. As the Telegraph‘s Tom Payne pointed out, T.S. Eliot once sarcastically referred to reviewers who consider only their own feelings with, “Why have principles, when one has the inner voice?” Such accusations can certainly be leveled at bloggers who offer their personal reaction to art without the dispassion expected from critics. The newspaper is still, to many, a bastion of good taste and cultural authority, even if such views are dissipating as more and more quality, niche writing appears online. As art desks are vacated, debate about the validity of digital replacements will only become louder.
Cultural attrition and job losses aside, the saddest part of the Postmedia announcement is that it also announces an inevitable decline in accessible long-form thinking, and the sort of investigative arguments that have been the bread and butter of newsrooms across the country. A lack of complex thought in public places further decreases the demand for it. And that is a difficult climate for art to flourish in.