“Coverage of locally-produced arts is rapidly shrinking in a newspaper that purports to excel in its coverage of local activities”

May 8th, 2013 · 1 Comment · economy, journalism

 By Arthur Alpert

The Albuquerque Theatre Guild is upset about a new Albuquerque Journal policy that promises less attention to local plays and would move some of that attention from Fridays to Sundays.

An ATG delegation met with Managing Editor Karen Moses and Venue editor Rene Kimball a few weeks ago.

It learned that the Journal will run no more than two reviews of new plays a month. It has been publishing about one a week. (Barry Gaines, a UNM professor of English, is the newspaper’s lead reviewer.)

Further, ATG reports the newspaper plans to confine reviews of non-musical plays to the Sunday Arts section; they had appeared in Venue, in the body of the newspaper or in Sunday Arts.

Venue, the Friday guide to entertainment, will continue to promote local musicals and carry theater listings in its calendar. ATG said it worries, nonetheless, that those listings are at risk.

Space is at a premium in Sunday Arts, where editors fit coverage of theater, dance, music, visual arts, films and books into five pages; a sixth carries TV schedules and weather.

ATG said relegating coverage to Sundays is problematic because readers make their going out decisions early in the weekend.

“Coverage of locally-produced arts is rapidly shrinking in a newspaper that purports to excel in its coverage of local activities,” the ATG informed members and friends in an email. The Guild urged that they protest via letters (snail or email) and a petition at gopetition.com.

Let me state my interest before continuing. A sometime actor at several community theaters, I am a card-carrying Guild member.

I should confess discomfort, too, because I have not asked for the Journal’s explanation; however, regular readers will understand my reluctance to ask management for its views.

It’s safe, however, to assume the newspaper, like most, has serious financial concerns. Young Americans prefer digital mediums. Revenues from print advertising continue to shrink.

The Journal’s goal must be to publish a trim newspaper (the Monday, May 6, issues ran only 26 pages not counting Business Outlook), appeal to younger readers and attract advertising from those who sell to them.

The trimming of theatrical coverage would seem to fit with a strategy of tailoring Venue as a repository for youth-oriented advertising. The Friday tabloid already carries multiple features on touring rock groups coming to New Mexico.

But – and for this I apologize, Venue – I read it, too, appreciatively, despite my advanced age.

Not only is the section professionally edited with clever rubrics, but it covers movies, classical music and jazz and restaurants. I go to movies, some New Mexico Philharmonic and jazz concerts and (when the billfold permits) restaurants. Also, I consult the calendar frequently during the week.

So Venue’s appeal is not just to the young and callow.

More problematic is the premise that publishing stories for young readers will attract them. Younger people seek their bliss elsewhere these days – on computers, tablets and smart phones.

But let’s widen our perspective.

The Albuquerque live theater scene is extraordinary; our 45 or 50 companies offer many more performances than any similarly sized American city. A glance at the advertising in the programs indicates it’s a growing part of the area’s economy.

So even if most theaters cannot afford to buy Journal advertising, it may be counter-productive to reduce coverage of the segment.

Also, this cutback on theater coverage follows a retreat on the book page about which my colleague Denise Tessier wrote in December and January.

To its credit, the Journal has maintained its Sunday book page (even after editor David Steinberg’s retirement), while many newspapers abandoned theirs long ago. It does, however, employ more syndicated material.

The good news is that Venue will continue to publicize musicals from Albuquerque Little Theater, Musical Theater Southwest, Landmark and the like. Their excellent Broadway revivals often merit Venue cover photos and centerfold stories. Also, former book editor Steinberg reviews most of them.

It’s true, too, that fans of drama still can find local reviews at “Talkin’ Broadway”, a national and regional theater website.

Albuquerque theaters will, no doubt, survive a Journal cool-shoulder.

And the Journal must do what it can to assure its survival.

What’s not clear, however, is that less local (cultural) coverage will help. What the Journal needs most, after all, is a broadly prosperous metropolitan-area economy.

And if Albuquerque’s live theater scene contributes to that, the newspaper’s enlightened self-interest may lie in paying it more attention, not less.

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One Comment so far ↓

  • Frank Fine

    The cuts in theater coverage is a loss to the local community. The Journal would only care if there were measurable complainants and loss of readership.
    ATG’s slow response with a meeting and a petition are not sufficient to get the paper’s attention.
    A few year’s ago the paper cut another interest group’s interest, the bridge column. In the first 72 hours hundreds of people called or emailed to protest. By the end of the week the column was reinstated.
    The Journal can be persuaded to change their minds, but it takes a far bigger effort than that put forth by ATG.
    If the meantime, the Compass or the Alibi could step into the vacuum by adding and increasing theater coverage with well written previews and reviews, and pick up readers in the process.

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