The Future of Cultural Journalism: Inspiration, Innovation and Proactivity
At the recent forum “Plotting the Future of Cultural Journalism,” an energized, standing-room-only crowd of Philadelphia’s cultural thought leaders came together to try to solve a troubling problem: that our arts community is growing as fast as newspapers seem to be shrinking. How do we adjust to today’s rapidly changing media landscape? What can we do to ensure our stories get told? If art exists and no one writes about it, did it really happen?
Canary Promotion founder and president Megan Wendell joined a distinguished panel that included Arts Journal founder and editor Douglas McLennan, Philadelphia Inquirer editor Bill Marimow, WHYY executive director of news and civic dialogue Chris Satullo and UPenn lecturer/2012 USC-Getty Arts Journalism Fellow Meredith Broussard, moderated by Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance president Tom Kaiden, to tackle these tough questions. (Listen to the entire event by visiting the Cultural Alliance’s page on SoundCloud.)
Keynote speaker McLennan started off the event with some sobering statistics: Since the year 2000, more than two-thirds of arts-journalism staff jobs have disappeared. “We are in a time of a lot of upheaval across the entire creative field,” he warned, “and we are about to go into more turmoil.” But McLennan also cited successful new developments in digital cultural journalism — from small, local, engaged blogs to public radio’s expanding commitment to arts coverage in markets across the country. Promising new business models include those that combine advertising with an involved, passionate audience willing to pay membership fees.
McLennan also noted the increasing influence of social media, digital content and marketing on audience engagement: “Today, no cultural experience is complete until it’s been shared. We want to be the curators of our own experiences.” Wendell agreed, encouraging institutions to adapt to reduced arts coverage by becoming creative connectors, strategically generating and repurposing content across social media platforms, as well as bringing communications experts to the table for programming and audience-building discussions.
The journalists on the panel weighed in on the kinds of arts stories that are most likely to secure that coveted coverage. Marimow asked for stories that “humanize an artist striving to do excellent work.” Wendell encouraged arts organizations to “find stories that can live beyond the arts section and connect to the city.” Satullo echoed these insights, saying that what gets journalists really excited about arts stories is behind-the-scenes access.
There’s so much more to say (and we’re pretty sure the forum’s 200-some attendees would have been happy to stay all day and do more future-plotting), but our takeaway is that with change comes opportunity. If we concentrate on inspiring our community, the conversation around the arts in Philadelphia will continue to thrive. Yes, we all have to work smarter and harder, but new digital tools can help us use our extensive creative assets to deepen our connections with our audiences, and can help us better understand who and where they are. As McLennan said, “If you can empower the creativity in other people, you will be so awesomely better than if you try to do it all yourself.”
Thanks to the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy and WHYY for co-hosting this event and inviting Canary Promotion to participate!
—The Canary Staff
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