Some readers may wonder why this site seems perennially obsessed with the career of the Atlanta-based music critic Pierre Ruhe. It's not for any personal reason; I had a nice dinner with Pierre the last time I was in Atlanta, but I don't know him well. Rather, the ups and downs of Pierre's career, which you can follow by browsing these posts, stand in for the general twilight struggle to maintain music criticism in American newspapers and magazines. Perhaps, after all, the profession is destined for extinction. It became widespread only in the latter half of the nineteenth century, and music managed to thrive for centuries without its assistance. Nonetheless, to take a phrase from Morton Feldman, let's try to keep it going for a little while more.
A digression on the sufferings of the newspaper business. I think the firing of critics and of various other thoughtful journalists will be seen as one of the industry's major blunders. The greatest mistake has been the panicky preoccupation with all things Internet — the decision to give away "content" for free, the attempt to sound "bloggy," the urge to make writing interactive, the narrow-minded focus on counting hits. Several years ago I wrote in passing: "I never took economics, but it seems to me that a company that gives away its product for free is committing suicide." I received a flurry of e-mails saying that if I had taken economics I would have understood that in the brave new world before us paid circulation didn't matter and newspapers would recoup any losses with online advertising. As in other areas of postmodern finance, my lack of training in economics didn't necessarily hinder my understanding of the situation. I'm generally a fan of the wacky world wide web, but I don't believe that it will put traditional journalism out of business, any more than television replaced movies or recording replaced live performance. The false either/or of Internet vs. print should be put to rest. And publications should emphasize their strengths and not their weaknesses.
Readers may recall that in 2007 I got into a bit of a public tiff with Hank Klibanoff, then the managing editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who vigorously protested my and others' contention that the AJC was gutting its arts coverage. Well, Klibanoff stepped down in 2008, and in April of this year the AJC let go of most of its critics. Several of them have banded together to start a new site, artscriticATL.com. Here is the founding statement: "With this new blog, former staff writers from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution have come together to offer opinion, news and ideas about our growing local scene. The editors are Pierre Ruhe, the former AJC classical music critic, and Catherine Fox, former AJC visual arts critic. We'll also recruit some of the sharpest writers around. In addition to art and music, artscriticATL.com will cover theater, dance and more. We believe that thoughtful criticism is a key component of a vibrant arts community, not only as an important link between art and its audience but also as a platform for debate and dialogue." Can the site pick up the functions that the AJC has set aside? Can it become a fully functional, salary-paying, ad-selling publication? The national arts community will be following its progress with intense interest. I think they're off to a strong start.