In June, the San Diego Union-Tribune let go its art critic Robert Pincus who had been at the paper for 20 years. Responsibility for coverage was given to James Chute, the paper's music critic. In an effort to provide more arts coverage, the Union-Tribune set up a series of art blogs, inviting local artists to contribute. There is no pay, and the artists post direct to the site with no editing.
As the Voice of San Diego explained, local artist and art professor Katherine Sweetman was to start writing one of these blogs, but instead she used the space to criticize the whole scheme.
"In an effort to step up the appearance of supporting the visual arts, The Union Tribune has graciously offered a handful of artists, scholars, and arts professionals the opportunity to write for them-- requiring only one blog post per week (52 per year). And the pay? Oh... no pay...
And then it hit us.
We hate the Union Tribune.
We hate the way they abruptly ended the tenure of the most important arts critic in San Diego's history. We hate James Chute's pathetic coverage of artists-- which just makes us look bad (seriously, read his stuff)...
It seems, to me, visual artists should be boycotting the Union Tribune not writing for them-- for free!"
Her post was removed from the site, but she reposted it here.
Her reaction highlights a common question facing news organisations: to what extent can one embrace/rely upon community contributions? Undoubtedly the most journalistically satisfactory solution would have been to keep the arts critic AND invite contributions from the artistic community which the critic could curate and edit. But if there is not enough money to keep a specific arts correspondent, is replacing that coverage with unpaid community contributions a good solution?
The idea that a news organisation might be trying to just keep up traffic without paying its contributors might understandably provoke anger and frustration, and there is no substitute for a paid, experienced, professional journalist. But arguably, it is better to have some coverage rather than none, and some members of the community will happily contribute their work if it means a way to have their voices heard on the issues they care about. The danger, some believe, is that the availability of this free content could eventually have a damaging effect on professional journalism.