This past Friday, I was on a conference call with several marketing and PR directors from various LORT (League of Resident Theaters) theaters. The purpose of the call was to plan discussion topics for the upcoming LORT conference in Los Angeles. We all agreed that the disappearing arts coverage in local and national press is one of the top issues currently facing non-profit arts organizations, and we recognize that the shrinking coverage has forced arts organizations into becoming content providers themselves. As we make the shift from pitching interesting stories for reporters to cover to covering them ourselves through various media channels (YouTube, Facebook, Blogs, Twitter, Flickr, BlipTv, etc), I believe it is also important to fight for the remaining arts reporters and critics.
We all know that the newspaper industry is in a world of hurt right now. The Rocky Mountain News, one of Denver's largest newspapers, has already bit the dust, and it looks very likely that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer will do the same. The chicago-based Tribune Company has filed for bankruptcy, and the New York Times doesn't look so hot either. Locally in DC metro area, we have seen the Baltimore Examiner go out of business and rumor on the street is that the Washington Post lost $40 million last year, however it owns Kaplan which made $50 million so they can continue to operate in the red, at least for awhile.
With all of this, you can imagine that the pressure is high to cut costs, and why not cut arts coverage? We are perceived by most not to be as valuable as other industries (I am thinking of the huge debate over the $50 million stimulus money for the NEA in the $800+ billion stimulus package, and how much controversy there was over that). So that is where we must step in. We need to make it clear that if a media source cuts arts coverage it will do so at the cost of advertising dollars.
It has been successful in the Washington metropolitan area. Just recently, a media source was going to cut a major source of arts coverage, going so far as to tell the writer that within weeks, she would be released. The League of Washington Theatres along with the management of several of the area's largest arts organizations sent a letter to the company outlining the likely economic consequences of the decision. Soon thereafter, the decision was reversed. Since the company changed its mind, and continued to support arts coverage, I have vowed to increase the amount of advertising I am spending with them this year, and am proud that they continue to be a great source of information on the local arts scene.
As I advocate to reduce advertising expenditures with companies that eliminate arts coverage, I would encourage you to consider increasing your advertising buys for companies that show an increased dedication to the arts. Locally, Arena Stage hasn't traditionally supported the DC Examiner (a local print publication) or DCTheatreScene.com (a local theater website). However, both have recently made efforts to increase their arts coverage, the former by printing a theater and museum guide and the latter by doing significant website improvements. Arena Stage now supports them both, and I plan to continue to do so.
The arts are an economic engine. We are a source of revenue, and it is about time that we are taken seriously. Don't be shy--vote with your advertising dollars.