Wanted: Reporter with Sparkle, No Actual Knowledge Required
This morning, casually drinking a cup of coffee and surfing through my usual dose of a.m. web content, I had an ideological shift of the 180 degree sort. My eye caught the following ad, which read in part: “The Los Angeles Times hopes to add an additional arts reporter to its staff….Expertise in visual arts, architecture, classical music, theater, dance or any combination would be a plus, but curiosity and flair are what’s required.”
I’ve never clung to the position that an arts reporter needs to have a Ph.D. in composition to write about music effectively for a general interest newspaper, and have even argued pretty forcefully that someone with so much knowledge would perhaps be dangerously out of touch with the needs of the readers. But “flair” over any need to have a working knowledge of the field you are covering? At the L.A. Times!? Would we let a reporter covering, say, North Korea for a major daily get by with a “curiosity” about the country? We expect more on-the-job insight from writers covering the date flicks at the megaplex. If you’ve never paid much attention to the activities of the L.A. Philharmonic and, you know, attended a few concerts and seen the key players in action over the years, just how interesting can your reporting really be? Once you write a few pieces on the pretty, shiny building, the cool looking conductor, and the obligatory rehash of the budget and the not-dying-orchestra, what are you left with?
I have to wonder about the business sense at work here, too, where it seems being clever has become an acceptable, or even desired, substitute for being skilled. Ultimately, who will value reporting that is not only aimed at the common denominator, but is being written by a member of the general tribe as well, however stylish the adjective use may be? I might as well call my mom and ask her for the information.
Which really only confirms a working theory I’ve got going that anyone actually interested in music has pretty much abandoned reading the dailies for their news fix. Alright, this probably happened years ago in many ways, but I think it means something that they haven’t lost interest in the subject—they’ve lost interest in the newspapers. Those quarters just seem better invested in a latte. And I don’t mean to get off on an “it’s the Internet, stupid” rant here, and yes, we’re all sick of talking about other people’s blogs, but seriously, would you rather read about what a writer with “flair” finds worthy of reporting on, or what any one of the insider ArtsJournal bloggers are writing about this a.m.? So to all the dailies hemorrhaging money while scratching their heads and wondering what went wrong—maybe “flair” shouldn’t be top on the qualifications list. Aiming for common-denominator comprehensibility doesn’t mean anyone wants flat line reporting. And many of us have voted with our quarters.