Arts Feature: Arts Coverage in Print Media (Bissett, The National and a motley crew…)

November saw the publication of The National, ‘The newspaper that supports an independent Scotland’. Selling out its first issue and continuing past its five-day trial, Scotland has embraced its paper for the indy-kids.

Cultural-Yes-champion Alan Bissett tweeted on its first day ‘Love new @ScotNational newspaper but do we really need 4 pages of Business News and only 2 of culture? Slight misreading of audience there?’

Responses pointed out that the paper had to appeal beyond the 45% who would already make up the majority of its readership, and was better tackling the business news which had concerned undecided voters. However Bissett raises wider questions about culture coverage in newspapers. Does it have a broad appeal?

One tweeter asked, ‘Perhaps an attempt to seem heavyweight and not too ‘lefty’?’ Another said the paper had ‘ample’ coverage and that ‘I’m just not that interested by [cultural coverage]. If I wanted more arts I’d seek it.’

This discussion comes amidst a flurry of laid off reviewers from national newspapers. Tim Walker, former theatre critic at the Sunday Telegraph wrote ‘all too often, the seats in the stalls where my colleagues and I used to sit are being left vacant.’ He adds, ‘theatre should never end when the curtain comes down… Sadly, I just don’t see that conversation – led so confidently by the newspaper critics for so long – being continued in any serious form online.’

While this is a valid lament, he mostly seems concerned at being toppled from his own position of authority. Most concerning is his apparent belief that new critics are ‘a motley crew’ whom nobody recognises and it’s an insult to have them turn up to first nights.

The decline of intelligent discussion surrounding theatre in mainstream media is worrying. Yet, much as I admire many big names in the circle of theatre critics, this shouldn’t come in the form of an elite.

We need a new space to give to critics, who should become trusted through intelligent writing, not through familiarity. Whether this comes in raising the profile of current online critical publications, or finding print space in new publications like The National remains to be seen.

[Caitlin MacColl – @turningtoaverse]

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