Martin Bernheimer has an article in the Financial Times, dated tomorrow, that discusses the role of critics as arbiters of excellence and maintainers of standards, and the trend away from respect for expertise toward the view that everyone is a reasonable critic. Along the way, he mentions the Internet as one reason for the decline of journalism and professional critics.
I think a number of the points he makes are on target, but others are truly arguable. The consolidation of the news media has been going on for decades, since the relaxation of rules on how many types of media a particular company could own in a particular market. Some newspapers are losing money - for reasons including their own failure to move their advertising onto the Web, pronto - but many others are profitable. They're just not making high enough profits for their corporate masters and Wall Street; therefore, their staffs get cut. (Justin Davidson provides some context in a Musical America article. Justin, about that last point you make: San Francisco Classical Voice is independent of both arts organizations and print journalism.)
I have to especially argue with this point in Martin Bernheimer's article:
A primary cause of our imminent extinction must be the internet. An impatient generation is succumbing to the free and easy lure of computer-enlightenment. Not all those who cover the arts in old-fashioned print are paragons, badness knows. Still, most have sufficient education and/or experience to justify their views. On the web anyone can impersonate an expert. Anyone can blog. Credentials don’t count. All views are equal. Some sort of criticism may indeed survive the American media revolution, but professional criticism may not.
Just how familiar is Mr. Bernheimer with the classical music blogosphere? The bloggers I read can be loosely classified as follows (and apologies to those of you I've omitted from this incomplete list):
- Professional critics such as Alex Ross, Joshua Kosman, Jessica Duchen, Steve Smith, and Tim Mangan
- Composers and composer/critics such as Elaine Fine, Kyle Gann, Steve Hicken, Matthew Guerrierri, and the whole gang at Sequenza 21
- Performers such as singer/arts administrator Sidney Chen, pianist Jeremy Denk, conductor Kenneth Woods, and singer Anne-Carolyn Bird
- Consultants such as Drew McManus and Greg Sandow. Oh, did I mention that Drew has a past as a performing musician and Greg is a composer and critic?
- Well-informed and educated listeners such as A.C. Douglas, Patrick Vaz, and sfMike.
He's not the only critic who has gone astray writing about classical music on the Internet recently. The anonymous bloggers at The Detritus Review had a fine time taking apart an article by Mark Swed. And Out West Arts reports that newly-minted blogger Alan Rich said recently that there are "no important music blogs on the West Coast at this time." Welcome to the blogosphere, Mr. Rich, and check out those of us who've been here a while.
Update, July 5: A.C. Douglas has a few words on the same subject.