Australia’s newspaper arts critics: a dying breed?

Over in New Matilda today I have a short essay on the state of Australian newspaper arts critics.

Like their colleagues in newsrooms, newspaper arts critics are having a hard time of it.

As I point out,

The Australian newspaper arts critic is a dying breed. Readers of newspapers are vanishing far faster than audiences for Australian films, and publishers and proprietors, who have never made much of a profit from arts pages, are responding by slashing the amount and quality of their arts coverage.

As noted British music critic Norman LeBrecht recently observed, “In a borderless realm where anyone can tweet an uninformed response, reasoned criticism is under threat and undervalued. The arts are the first casualty of newspapers in retreat. Many US papers have sacked critics and abolished book sections.”

In Australia, there hasn’t been much in the way of reasoned criticism for some time. When I first started as a theatre and arts critic for Brisbane’s Courier-Mail in 2001, that paper sustained a surprisingly serious commitment to the arts that belied its bucolic reputation. The paper gave regular work to a number of intelligent and well-qualified reviewers, corralled by an agile and feisty arts editor in Rosemary Sorensen. There was scope to write long features on important trends in contemporary culture, like the growth of turntables as a musical instrument or the popular success of electronic music.

A glance at what passes for the arts section in today’s bowdlerised tabloid Courier-Mail shows the extent of the cultural regress. Sorensen has moved on to greener pastures at The Australian, and her replacement, Suzannah Clarke, is more of an arts reporter, penning friendly but only marginally critical feature articles and employing a dwindling band of specialist reviewers to judge the vibrant culture of Australia’s third-largest city.

At the Fairfax newspapers, a similar story can be told. Although The Age’s A2 section retains a certain commitment to surveying local books and literature, truly critical articles and reviews are hard to find. As with most newspaper arts coverage, the sycophantic interview and the PR puff piece are by-and-large the order of the day.

read the full essay here.

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One thought on “Australia’s newspaper arts critics: a dying breed?

  1. Ahh .. the golden days of the early 2000s … I recall in that brief moment between the excellent arts editor Sandra McLean and Rosemary’s move into the seat, there was an earlier moment of regression, with requests to cut visual art reviews to 400 words or less. It was about that time that I stopped writing … as based on the appalling word rate on offer it was not really worth it.
    Of course, most specialist visual arts magazines still pay less than the CM was paying back in 2000! So along with the issue of cuts, there’s always been the matter of the economic viability of reviewing practice. Perhaps that’s why so many of the main reviewers and critics do the work on top of their academic salaries. Peter A

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