Reporting the Arts

News Coverage of Arts and Culture in America

Published in: GIA Reader, Vol 11, No 1 (Summer 2000)

Michael Janeway, Daniel S. Levy, András Szántó, Andrew Tyndall

1999, 128 pages; National Arts Journalism Program, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, 2950 Broadway, MC 7200, New York, New York 10027.

There is both good news and bad news in Reporting the Arts, the first comprehensive study of journalistic arts coverage in the United States, recently completed by the National Arts Journalism Program at Columbia University with funding from The Pew Charitable Trusts.

The study analyzed fifteen dailies in ten cities and three national papers — The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today — as well as the Associated Press and network television to provide a baseline for future examination of arts coverage throughout the country. In addition to detailed and extensive quantitative data, the report features essays offering critical perspectives as well as excerpts from interviews with editors and arts critics.

The good news is that there seems to be an ongoing commitment to arts coverage across the country, albeit coverage that often blurs the boundaries between arts and entertainment. The bad news is that almost half of the column inches devoted to arts coverage is simply listings of arts and entertainment events. More bad news: arts coverage tends to lag behind other specialized areas of interest such as sports and business, not only in space but also in staff.

There are wide disparities across the country in the amount of space devoted to the arts — 19,000 column inches at The New York Times during the month surveyed (October 1988) while the other fifteen dailies surveyed averaged only 8,000 inches during that period. As many would expect, big city newspapers were found to cover the arts in more detail and diversity than those in smaller cities.

Another key finding — which some might view as good news, others bad — is that there is a growing tendency to package arts news in expanded weekend supplements rather than make it part of regular weekday coverage. This tends to result in more listings, features, and reviews and less actual news of the arts world. Television, movies, music, and books received the most coverage in papers studied while visual arts, architecture, dance, and radio got only cursory coverage.

The largest section of the report, which focused on “hometown dailies” includes community profiles, effective graphics, descriptions of various approaches to arts coverage, and insight into how those decisions are made. Papers in Charlotte, Cleveland, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Miami, Philadelphia, New York, Portland (Oregon), Providence, and San Francisco are examined.

Network television tended to cluster arts coverage on its morning programs, virtually ignoring the arts in its nightly newscasts and prime time news magazines. In fact, during October 1998, arts coverage on all three nightly newscasts combined totaled only eleven minutes — filling less than one percent of the total newshole.

The report is interesting reading — particularly if you live in one of the highlighted cities. However, the information also should be of interest to anyone concerned not only with the health of our country's arts communities but also with how we weave the arts, and awareness of the arts, into the daily lives of everyday citizens.

Review by Deena Epstein, The George Gund Foundation.