Art of News

Photo by MyEyeSees — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

The news biz needs to learn from the arts biz.

Is anyone else getting tired of listening to old school journalists lament their irrelevance?

Article after article, conference after conference, journalists whine about their lack of readership, complain about staff cuts, smirk at bloggers, and roll their eyes at the mention of Twitter.

I wonder: Have they ever asked themselves if their declining readership is a result not of our online culture but, instead, a reflection of a job being done badly?

When they did not have any real competition, no one’s argument about the significance of their work made any sense. Sure we thought some were too cozy with those in power, or some were too in love with a revolutionary spirit. Still, we read and we watched.

And as we watched, they enjoyed being watched. More and more, journalists aspired not for an article on the front page, but to be in front of the camera. More and more, they were less interested in delivering the news than in offering their ever-so informed opinion of the news.

Hairpieces and facelifts (but who really knows?) followed, as did their enhanced egos as the gatekeepers of the news.

With the web came competition - instantaneous reports from all over the world. No gatekeepers, only news. Journalists had become so enamored of their role to present “the news” at the end of the day (broadcast evening news, or tomorrow’s edition of the daily paper), they were unprepared for a world where gatekeeper status became democratic and selling news became competitive.

No longer do we genuflect before their job status as those who decide what news is important, when it should be presented, and how it should be packaged. Any review of news readership (newspaper, magazines, TV, and especially online sites) shows that we do hunger to know what it is going on the world. At the same time, we expect something more from our professional news services.

Their system worked when no one knew what was going in the world. So what do they do if we already know what is happening in the world throughout the day?

This is where the news biz needs to adapt the arts biz model.

Remember when CNN was the source for relevant news? It built a brand as the place to go for straight news from around the world. Their audience felt informed, enlightened and part of a global community.

But then with competition their mission changed. Out went in-depth news stories and global reports; in came opinion panels, talk shows, and hyperventilating news hosts gasping for air at the latest celebrity development no matter how small or insignificant. On the day of President Obama’s first European summit, CNN’s “Situation Room” focused on the reaction to Mrs. Obama touching the Queen. Why would anyone watch CNN for that kind of report?

The arts have been through this. With the growth and cultural significance of television and film, some predicted the death of live performance; many challenged live art to become more like the new media.

The live arts organizations that have succeeded have done so by staying true to their mission. In fact, many provide an experience that is determinedly different from other media. In other words, rather than trying to imitate, the live arts community asserted their unique offering.

It’s not about adopting social media, Facebook accounts, and twittering. It’s about providing a service that is unique. It’s about making a product for an audience.

In the live arts, we benefit from being able to watch the audience absorb our product. We know when a show is working, and certainly when it is not. I wonder how many newspaper executives watch people read their papers? How many television executives listen to conversations outside of their own studios?

Live arts have learned to become more connected to their audiences, to provide challenges, and to offer insights. Live arts know that an audience expects more than what they can get easily at home or get for less money at a movie theatre. That is why the live arts are still thriving today.

News businesses need to follow the example of the arts. We know the headlines, we don’t know the in-depth report. We absorb the highlights, but don’t make the connections for the story’s consequences, ramifications, and effect on tomorrow’s news.

If there’s anything to be discovered on KadmusArts.com it is this: the live arts might be the best example of a business that has a growing global reach, a national significance, and the humility to honor the aspirations of its audience.

Will the news business follow the arts’ lead?

- Bill Reichblum

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