Our current arts feature aks the question, "Arts bloggers: knowledge or noise?" After accepting the buyout last year at the AJC, arts critic Cathy Fox, along with classical music critic Pierre Ruhe, started ArtsCriticATL.com. It's quickly become a respected resource for local arts news and criticism. Here she discusses the transition and the pros and cons of running a blog.
Tell me about your blog.
Pierre Ruhe and I Pierre is a classical music critic started it shortly after we both took the buyout [from the Atlanta Journal Constitution], May 1. Our idea was to fill the gap that the loss of coverage at the AJC or the diminishing coverage of the AJC left in the community. Were both newspaper people, and so we looked at it from that perspective, and we wanted it to be a journal with all the smorgasbord of writers and topics. So, that was how we started, and we have built up a group of contributors. At this point nobody is earning any money from this venture. But I have been very heartened by the enthusiastic response that weve gotten from people, that there does seem to be a need. Im not sure how large the need is. ... But certainly in terms of interest and enthusiasm, theres been a huge response to it.
Tell me more about that, what have you heard from people?
Well, Ive heard from people, Oh, thank God, therell be coverage. ... To have it all in one place, to have it be serious, as opposed to blithe and snarky, to treat it like a beat. And some people say, I never read about ballet before, but now that its all together on this blog Im reading about all the other things that are happening in Atlanta. So, in a way its growing audience and readership across disciplines. At least thats what Ive heard anecdotally.
The galleries in particular. The theaters were really excited about it. Unfortunately we have not been able to build up a consistent coverage of that area, given that everybodys volunteer and everybody has other interests, priorities, need to make money. We just havent been able to build it up. I think theres a huge audience for it, but we just havent been able to do it yet. The audience is also national and international.
How do you know that?
We can look at our site analytics and see where the hits are coming from. Weve been picked up by artsjournal.com. Were on their blog roll, and they pick up our stories when theres something that they think has legs nationally. Weve been written about in other serious blogs, including the New Yorker, Music Critic, Arts Journal.... Weve got the experience and the reputation at this point, and you can either agree, disagree, or dismiss what we write about, but at least you know that we have a certain credibility that we built up at the paper. And thats what we were hoping would differentiate us from other art blogs.
And do you feel that it has?
How is the experience of writing for the blog different from the experience of writing for the paper, or is it different?
Yeah, it is different. First of all, I dont have to write about things that I dont want to write about, that dont interest me. Im assuming more knowledge on the part of the reader. I dont feel that I have to skirt things, or explain terms, or not use terms, or not make references to other artists. [That] was always a stumbling block at the paper, because we had a much broader audience, [which] wasnt necessarily a priori interested in art. The assumption was you wanted to [write] for a general interest reader.
So, I find that liberating. I can write longer or shorter. People have told me that it seems like Im having more fun.
So theyre right! What are some of the disadvantages?
The disadvantage is that you dont have an institution like the paper behind you. You dont have the back office. Now Im chef, cook and bottle washer.
By back office, are you talking about copy editing staff?
You know, we actually have a volunteer copy editor. That is another thing we think distinguishes us. We have a copy editor from the AJC. At this point, again, hes a volunteer. He doesnt read the copy before its posted, because time is of the essence, but he does go back. He reads behind us, and we do correct everything. Its very important to us, language and all that. So, were really thrilled that hes willing to do this. ...
I used to travel, so I dont have that. I used to get expenses, and I dont have that. Magazine subscriptions all those things now Im doing. So those are the disadvantages. ...
Im surprised that your advertising happened so fast. I would have assumed that that would happen much more slowly. Can you talk about that? In other words, what is your advertising strategy, and how well is that working?
We felt that we had a very niche demographic. And even though we dont have the thousands and thousands of hits that major websites get, we felt that because we had a very targeted, niche, committed, probably higher-income niche part of our audience is an audience thats educated, et cetera. So we always thought there could be a market. And we also felt that small galleries and other institutions for whom the AJC, for instance, is prohibitive, might find our site a good alternative in terms of reaching that audience and not having to spend that much money. So, thats what weve been trying to do is go to those people. ...
We have an ad rep who is also an AJC alumn and he works on commission. So we have his background and connections with advertisers. ... Hes been doing a great job! That also brings a complication in that weve had to go out and get a business license and start running ourselves like a business, which has its own costs. So, its not 100 percent profit.
Also, because were so local, we thought that would help be a niche.
But, who knows? Its such new territory for us. ...
(Photo courtesy Cathy Fox)
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