A Conversation
On Music Journalism

February 20, 2013 • Specialist Journalism • by

With such an abundance of free information available online and editorial boards using news agencies more than ever, the number of beat reporters employed by print outlets has decreased. Among the specialty reporters disappearing from newsrooms are journalists and critics who cover the arts. What was once divided amongst a host of staff reporters – the coverage of music, architecture, and theatre – is now entrusted to one journalist, thus impairing the quality of art journalism and criticism. During the Seventh Cartagena International Music Festival, which took place in early January in Cartagena, Columbia, the European Journalism Observatory sat down with Anne Midgette, chief reviewer of classical music for The Washington Post, to discuss the current state of the profession. During the weeklong festival, Midgette was among the guest lecturers participating in a training module supported by the Columbian Ministry of Culture and organized by the New Foundation of Journalism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez (FNPI).

Concerts are not reviewed:
Midgette compares music journalism with sports journalism. “There are journalists in every sports department, who write about games and the sports business (what player is on what team, how much they earn etc.), as well as develop stories about people. The same three pillars should also be in art journalism.” Nevertheless during recent years, a great deal of content has been cut from U.S. newspapers aside from biographical portrait articles meant to introduce an artist. “If an artist comes to a city, his biography is published in order to [encourage] people to buy tickets to his concert,” the reviewer explains. The concert is not reviewed. “That way the interest is killed, because people never learn whether the concert was good or bad,” Midgette adds, noting that in America editorial boards rely on these previously prepared and disseminated materials, not knowing what the concert will be like. As an exception, one member of the editorial board is usually sent to report on popular music, however this member is not necessarily a pop music reviewer. Anne Midgette mentions The New York Times as the only newspaper she knows who has a fulltime music reporter on staff, while for example The Washington Post, represented by her, employs non-staff journalists, who help to create content for the music section. “The job morphing takes place,” Midgette explains, “my friends, who have been working as reviewers of classical music, now they are writing reviews on classical music, theatre, art, and architecture.”

Among the solutions suggested by Midgette to improve the dearth of arts reporting, particularly among music performances, is the creation of a separate column dedicated to reflections on music in newspapers, where news, reports and reviews on different genres of music is summarized. According to her, such a column should be maintained by music reporters and reviewers, who work to develop articles both about classical and popular music. Nevertheless, nowadays there is no quality reporting on music in U.S. newspapers (which means that there are no music journalists and reviewers), and the information, appearing in newspapers or on their websites, is mainly taken from news agencies.

Reviewer and reporter:
Midgette is of the opinion that there is a difference between music journalism and a review. “Music reporters collect facts and write factual stories, they must not express their opinion in the article, whereas music reviewers express their opinion, evaluate which orchestras are good, which are bad, what their cons and pros are. They think critically, [but it] is not always a nasty criticism.” Despite the differences, they are journalists in both cases, Midgette explains. For example, her job description includes interviewing, studying information, meeting with publicists in order to learn seasonal trends, meeting with orchestra conductors in order to learn about the budget, musicians, the maintaining of blogs, listening to CDs, going to cinemas, generating ideas for articles, in addition to noting current music news. “It is a wide range [and] it is a big responsibility. Here I am writing about Vivaldi, then about the current position of an American orchestra. And, if there is anything important going on in the field of music in Washington, I want to be the first one who has written about it.”

To tell a story:
Music reporter or reviewer – it is the job of both to see and tell a story, according to Midgette. “In [the] case of a reviewer, his opinion forms the story, because it is you who experiences the concert and decides how to tell it.” She emphasizes that it will always be subjective, “of course, it is possible to make many descriptive articles, but if there is no opinion in them, they do not tell whether the concert has been good or bad.” Midgette thinks that the best compliment she can receive about her review is, “I enjoyed your review, but I have a completely different opinion. It does not happen frequently, but it is my goal! Instead of telling people, what to think I want them to be able to form their own opinions, based on my review.” Nevertheless Midgette puts it skeptically on the future of her profession. “I doubt that the profession of a music reviewer will exist in 15 years.”

Article translated from the original Latvian “Mūzikas kritikas mērķis – lai lasītājs veido viedokli” by Ivita Ozola

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