New kids on the blog

New kids on the blog


norman lebrecht

July 13, 2008

The Observer, a British Sunday newspaper, set up one of those self-fullling propositions today by asking: Critic vs Blog – is the art of criticism under threat from the web?

The article that explores these tensions is, so far as I can judge, fair, balanced and, insofar as it quotes my views, pretty accurate and to the point.

What skews it are the photographs which show the critics to be bursting with middle-age, while the bloggers portrayed are uniformly young, hip and street-wise.

The pictures, I can reveal, were posed. The critics were specifically asked to dress up in suits, while the bloggers are seen in gear that is generically casual. The meaning conveyed is simple. Critics = old and square, bloggers = young and cool.

That ‘s the sort of thing that gives journalism a bad name, the more so when it is palpably untrue, as it is here. Many of the  bloggers I come across on-line are of pensionable age and crusty disposition. Many of the critics I meet in pursuit of my trade are young, unwaged and astonishingly open-eared and minded.

Nor are the two worlds mutually exclusive. Most arts bloggers get their juices flowing by what they read in newspapers, print or on-line. More and more professional critics are alert to what airs on-line and, from time to time, assimilate and respond to it.

There are no hard and fast borders. Some bloggers strive for an impartiality worthy of the New York Times at its dullest. Some critics make polemic their passion, the rage at bad art increasing with the passing of years. That makes essential reading.

Some – I am not alone in this – inhabit both sides of the tracks. We write in newspapers for a living and feed a blog like this one with material we either can’t or don’t want to put in print – stuff that, in our judgement, has its most appropriate place out here, sparking instant responses and cutting more quickly than a newspaper page can with its cumbersome furniture and – in the Observer article – occasionally distorted view of the world.

One of the first laws of journalism is never make the facts fit the story. In the Observer, the story looks as if it has been commissioned to fit a fake picture.


  • For some reason this entry reminds me of something a former coworker of mine told me many years ago. Her preacher told the parents in his audience that they should not be hestitant to let their children learn what their beliefs are. The context was the current parental thinking that parents should not “force” their children to adopt their beliefs, but should allow children to come to their own conclusions. The preacher stated something to the effect of ‘there are plenty of people in the world who will not have your same hestitation to sway the thoughts of your children.’
    I do not understand why we consistently try to only have two options — old and square vs. young and cool. There are good and not-as-good qualities in both parties, are there not?

  • Mr. Bacon says:

    Most arts bloggers get their juices flowing by what they read in newspapers, print or on-line. More and more professional critics are alert to what airs on-line and, from time to time, assimilate and respond to it.
    Because most print media is also available online, bloggers tend to consult the print media considerably, but even if more and more print critics are checking the blogs, many aren’t still doing it enough, and probably should if they’re worried about their jobs considering this recent reduction in critic positions. But regardless, they can’t possibly respond to the most recent articles in real time because of once-a-day publishing, if that. So an anti-blogging stance like that of Martin Bernheimer can only hurt print journalists, as they’re already at a disadvantage logistically. Those print critics who do blog (like you) are in a much more advantageous position.

  • Elaina says:

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.