In these days of downsizing,
everyone's attempting to do more with less, to be more efficient. Whether it's justifying your position or stepping
up your productivity, it seems there is a never-ending search for faster ways of getting the job done. Back in H.L.
Mencken's time, when real editors strode the land, a writer who produced one word sentences and one sentence paragraphs
would be sent packing, but that's the least of the problems confronting the print media today.
It takes very little effort for a critic to write a dismissive review and negativity sells,
especially in this area. Just choose your negative point of departure and pile on - you'll have plenty of company.
You'd never know there's a vibrant artistic community out there from what you read in the print media. Critics, no
longer content to report on a performance or exhibition, find it's to their advantage to blithely dismiss it or pick it
apart. Their subjective pieces are more suitable for the Op-Ed page than the Entertainment section.
media often whine about how their content is pilfered from the web, but they never tell you that it is also happening the
other way around. Either they or their staff regularly troll the web, looking for information, which they can appropriate
into their own reviews. Usually it's an idea or phrase, maybe a word or point of view, conveniently rearranged to
look original. Plagiarism is alive and well; it's just grown more subtle. No one will typically lift a paragraph
verbatim, but they may paraphrase it. They may also appropriate your unique way of entering a piece - your roadmap for
writing up an article.
Press releases often serve as a template for reviews. Many people would be surprised
at how much of this background material makes its way into an article, serving as an entrée or churned into an entire
piece. At best a press release is an organization's commercial attempt to market its product; at worst it's
spin; but objective reporting, it's not. Yet many reviews - too many to count - look more like the show that is
represented than the one that is actually on display. A press release is provided to inform the review, not
to replace it, still less to serve as a basis for undermining a show. Critics, who would often arrive at a show with their
minds made up, may now, in this age of quick turnaround, have the review already written.
often cite the constraints of space and time - cost and deadlines - as the basis for their brief reviews. Well, all
the print media have an online presence, and who knows, maybe down the road this will be the endpoint of their ultimate retreat.
I invite them to post their complete articles online, at some point, so that we all have the benefit of their complete reporting.
There's unlimited free space out there - they're posting libraries on the net - so let's see what they've
The tendency toward fraud creeps in incrementally in other ways. I've seen a number of theater reviews
of shows that have not yet opened. Usually they err in the opposite direction; they are puff pieces which describe a
play from the vantage point of the director, playwright, or actors, sometimes designers. You have to either read closely
or read between the lines to find out that the show is at the technical or dress rehearsal stage. The reviewer may have
seen it - it's difficult to tell - but this hardly qualifies as a show. A couple of productions that I read about
recently were a week away from previews.
One paper selects "Editor's Picks" for shows that are
not even in rehearsal, let alone have opened. One wonders how you can recommend a play or performance that starts months
down the road. Is it based on awards, political correctness, buzz or what?
The trend toward misrepresentation
doesn't stop with words. I've seen photographs of performances not remotely connected to the show at hand; either
the photo was from an earlier production, lifted off the web, or one that was snapped, during rehearsal, but it did not concern
the show in question. For art exhibits, the practice has grown so common, any image that accompanies an exhibit has
to be questioned. I counted three out of six art works in a mailed flyer that did not appear in a recent show and a
newspaper printed one of them. This is just one of many examples of the trend. Curators and jurors don't see
more than the artists' slides in today's art market. In a laughable instance earlier this year, one card arrived
with a painting from our own collection prominently displayed. The artist hastened to let us know, in a note, that an outside
consultant recommended using this work, based on a review of her images. A patron, who has every right to be able to
see, if not purchase, a work of art being advertised or reviewed, must feel a little jaded when failing to find the showstopper.
So where's the editor in the process? Not reigning in the writers who are operating as free agents. These
print journalists long for a better, more lucrative assignment, i.e., the Op-Ed page or political beat which they can parlay
into something better. When's the last time an arts critic wrote a book in this town? (They might follow their nose
for a story to the Sports section, where the opportunity and money, and surprisingly, the writing are better.) They are not
checking the content of the reviews for balance, accuracy, legitimacy, and originality; and certainly not striving to take
the art review to the next level - a standard of excellence you'll find every Friday, across the board, in The New York
Times, and to lesser extent, The Wall Street Journal. And not preparing as they should for the public fall-out over
the next journalistic debacle which, at this rate, is coming sooner rather than later. If they're out there at all,
they're looking at subscription rates and advertising fees, promoting their fair-haired boys and girls for awards, building
partnerships of dubious merit, and courting political influence and favor. They are everywhere but where they should
be, editing their writers.
Copyright by John F. Glass September 29, 2009