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Sunday, February 7, 2010

Cathy Fox talks ArtsCriticATL.com

Posted By on Sun, Feb 7, 2010 at 9:00 PM

click to enlarge Cathy Fox
  • Cathy Fox

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. We’re 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 we’ve gotten from people, that there does seem to be a need. I’m not sure how large the need is. ... But certainly in terms of interest and enthusiasm, there’s been a huge response to it.

Tell me more about that, what have you heard from people?

Well, I’ve heard from people, “Oh, thank God, there’ll 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 it’s all together on this blog I’m reading about all the other things that are happening in Atlanta.” So, in a way it’s growing audience and readership across disciplines. At least that’s what I’ve 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 everybody’s volunteer and everybody has other interests, priorities, need to make money. We just haven’t been able to build it up. I think there’s a huge audience for it, but we just haven’t 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. We’ve been picked up by artsjournal.com. We’re on their blog roll, and they pick up our stories when there’s something that they think has legs nationally. We’ve been written about in other serious blogs, including the New Yorker, Music Critic, Arts Journal.... We’ve 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 that’s what we were hoping would differentiate us from other art blogs.

And do you feel that it has?

I do.

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 don’t have to write about things that I don’t want to write about, that don’t interest me. I’m assuming more knowledge on the part of the reader. I don’t 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] wasn’t 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 I’m having more fun.

Are you?

Yeah. Yeah.

So they’re right! What are some of the disadvantages?

The disadvantage is that you don’t have an institution like the paper behind you. You don’t have the back office. Now I’m 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, he’s a volunteer. He doesn’t read the copy before it’s posted, because time is of the essence, but he does go back. He reads behind us, and we do correct everything. It’s very important to us, language and all that. So, we’re really thrilled that he’s willing to do this. ...

I used to travel, so I don’t have that. I used to get expenses, and I don’t have that. Magazine subscriptions — all those things now I’m doing. So those are the disadvantages. ...

I’m 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 don’t 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 that’s 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, that’s what we’ve 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. ... He’s been doing a great job! That also brings a complication in that we’ve had to go out and get a business license and start running ourselves like a business, which has its own costs. So, it’s not 100 percent profit.

Also, because we’re so local, we thought that would help be a niche.

But, who knows? … It’s such new territory for us. ...

(Photo courtesy Cathy Fox)

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