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November 16, 2011


Jeremy M. Barker

As one of the bloggers who predictably responded to Kaiser (see Culturebot.org), I want to tell you that I hear what you're saying. These things concern me, too. That's what lies at the heart of my exasperation with Kaiser.

The same challenges facing your musician client face us (or at least some of us) as writers: just as the Internet has rendered the value of recorded music negligible, it's also killed most forms of arts writing. Newspapers are getting rid of serious critics and reducing inches devoted to the arts in print; on the web, where it's obvious to them how low a traffic draw good arts coverage is, paid arts writing is almost non-existent.

I didn't start out intending to be a blogger, I started out as a freelancer. When I decided I wasn't interested or devoted enough to suffer through the rigmarole of trying to make a living as a writer by writing and editing things I wasn't interested in, I essentially gave up because I knew no staff position was in my future anyway, and I took a nine-to-five. The only thing I stuck with was blogging (through Gothamist's Seattle satellite), which I'd started doing to build up my portfolio. And I honestly would have quit that, too, but over time I became re-engaged with performing arts and realized the need for providing coverage of them. Not just reviews, but previews and interviews and generally trying to create a place that readers would know is a good resource on the form. And that in turn necessitated I work hard to try to build a readership for the work on the general interest/group site. When I moved to New York a year and a half ago, I began collaborating with a small group who were covering the sort of work I was interested in and knew about here, and we work very hard to provide information, promote shows, and give attention to emerging artists who maybe need someone to take a risk, go to a show, see someone who deserves more notice, and try to put that in front of an interested readership. That seems to be at least part of what everyone wants critics to do.

My issue, then, is that Kaiser throws the baby out with the bathwater. My efforts are not the same as a Yelp review. We work very hard, for virtually no direct compensation, and accept a broader editorial mission than just to write about our friends and stuff we already wanted to see, as well as acknowledging that part of our responsibility is getting our content in front of readers, something newspaper critics could always leave to their circulation departments.

So it's hard for me to deal with (a) people who lament the death of newspaper critics but aren't interested in serving as any sort of partner in helping us develop a sustainable future for the very sort of criticism they claim to want; and (b) people who idealize the older and dying version of criticism, which by and large failed to serve the arts or readers, which is part of the reason it's dying in the first place. Put those together and you've really gotten my goat. Kaiser fails to acknowledge any of this. I wish there were still opportunities for meaningful, paid, vetted criticism--maybe I could get paid for it. But they're fewer and fewer, and more and more aimed at big budget work, not the emerging artists who most need attention.

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