In late 2012 I wrote a post talking about how journalism is going to be one of the key tools smart art organizations use to connect their art to an audience. The link to that post is here.
Since then there has been a few interesting developments and a noteworthy critique to consider. The most recent development comes courtesy of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. A few weeks ago they launched CSO Sounds and Stories. Spearheaded by a former arts editor for a major Chicago newspaper it is their attempt to create what they are calling "brand journalism".
Chris Jones, the primary art critic and reporter at the Chicago Tribune weighs in on this and similar developments here. Chris points to one of the central conflicts with journalism model. How do you create content that is both interesting AND credible? Is the CSO, or any arts organization, willing to deliver a harsh critique of themselves or colleagues in the field?
If they are, would it be the content marketing equivalent of blowing your own foot off?
There are no easy answers to those questions but I think it's fantastic that both the CSO and Jones are asking the right questions.
Here's my perspective. I believe art consumers need some sort of security before they buy. The real world is filled with various versions of "try before you buy" offers and it can be very scary to buy a ticket to a concert, play or art exhibition without getting some sense of what it is all about. I think that's where journalism plays a vital role.
And I think consumers are becoming more and more comfortable embracing journalism that has some sort of "slant". Consider the rise of things like the NFL Network or NBA TV. You could argue that these sorts of networks have every interest in making the league look good. But they have also been reasonably willing to tell critical stories about themselves.
Ultimately I think the move toward journalism within art organizations will strengthen the specific organization and the "mainstream" news sector.
As organizations get better at telling their own stories newspapers will not have to invest as much time and energy doing "preview" coverage. They can invest more time and energy into doing things that I believe are more important:
1. Providing reviews
2. Telling the hard news about the industry.
Think about all the stories that can't be covered as much as they probably should. The role of unpaid labor in arts organizations, real challenges bring diversity to the stage, staff and board, the fundraising challenges, the pressures on earned income, etc.
You could also add to that the more positive stories. The rise of artistic entreprenuers. The interesting styles of theatre, dance, music, etc. being explored all the country. The innovative arts managers. The next generation of artistic leaders.
The rise of branded journalism, content marketing, or whatever you call it, can give the mainstream news the space needed to cover those stories. That can make the entire field better.