The end of arts coverage?

by Garrison Frost

Several weeks ago, Dean Singleton, leader of the MediaNews empire, wrote an eight-page memo to his employees – including those at the recently acquired Daily Breeze – announcing that, among other things, content sharing among his Los Angeles newspapers was going to continue to increase as he seeks to maximize profits. This means a lot of things to a lot a people within his MediaNews company, but let’s think for a moment about the disastrous effect that this will have on arts coverage – and likewise, the arts scene – in the South Bay.

Back in July, the Daily Breeze officially dumped its features section for the print version of La.com, a plain wrap chain entertainment section that is shared across all MediaNews papers in Los Angeles, including the Breeze, the Long Beach Press-Telegram and the Daily News. While the Breeze’s features efforts, including its Rave section, were always pretty inconsistent, they nonetheless had a pretty strong local flavor to them. Local plays were reviewed. Many of the South Bay’s smaller art shows got some attention. Local creative-types got some ink.

When La.com came out, it was pretty clear that local arts and entertainment were going to suffer. Because this new insert had to be applicable to so many people across the L.A. basin, the coverage had to focus on only the big things: Disney Hall, major motion pictures, LACMA, the Getty, etc. And that’s pretty much how La.com’s been since its debut. Lots of stuff you can read about anywhere. Not much stuff that you used to only find in the Daily Breeze.

Media coverage is key for a small arts scene like the South Bay’s. Without some media to call attention to them, the occasional gems that emerge will only be trees falling in the woods. Sure, there are the weeklies in the beach cities and Palos Verdes, but so much of the great things happening in the South Bay are outside the coverage areas of these publications. Moreover, coverage in a small weekly hardly means that any attention will be generated outside of a small area. Really, the only hope for many arts venues and artists will be that they sneak into the newspaper rapidly diminishing news hole as feature stories.

Singleton’s summer announcement that there will be even more merging of content between his Los Angeles papers will mean even less arts coverage. As more and more of each paper’s news hole gets filled with nonlocal news, there will be even less space for the types of features that will be the lifeblood of the local arts scene.

The South Bay’s arts scene has been struggling valiantly for some time. While there are a lot of artists plying their trade in this area, the number of legitimate venues sits at a relatively low number. Vibrant arts coverage could do a lot to grow our small number of institutions, but anyone looking to the Breeze for that will be surely disappointed in the coming months and years.

(Nov. 7, 2007)

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