Journalist’s Choice: Pitchforks & Burning Tar — or Kachingle?


Yes, I know, there is a dismal future for investigative journalism. Same for arts criticism. In a previous blog, I told about Richard Bilotti, former publisher of the Times of Trenton, pitching the unpleasant proposition that journalists should be entrepreneurial. Richard K. Rein’s U.S. 1 Newspaper column told of a panelist at Princeton University saying that experienced reporters were being replaced by youngsters making $35k a year. Neither option good.

Now, for the first time I hear (on public radio, natch) of some honest to goodness good ideas.

Studio 360’s Jonathan Mitchell talks to a freelance film critic, Mike D’Angelo, whose print jobs disappeared, but his readers chipped in to send him to Cannes.

That won’t pay the rent, but here’s another option: Visual art critic Lori Waxman has funding from the Warhol Foundation to travel around, set up her desk in museums and galleries, and write 20-minute on the spot reviews. It may not sound like much, but it would be an enormous boost to an un-reviewed artist to have a review from a bona fide critic.

Andras Szanto (pictured) of the Artnewspaper.com — quoted on the program — cites a bunch of likely ideas, ranging from the Carnegie Foundation’s Vartan Gregorian suggesting that foundations fund newspaper subscriptions for college students (replenishing future readers) — to foundations “tithing” one percent of their arts organization funds to support arts criticism, sort of like how builders, in Philadelphia, must dedicate a percentage of the building costs to artwork for that building.

Other ideas: “Community funded reporting” where people who want something investigated can make a tax deductible contribution to http://www.spot.us, with monies held in escrow until the sum is collected (usually under $1,000) and then the writer does the story. As Mitchell said, it’s the “pitchforks and burning tar” method.

Or think about “Kachingle, sprinkling change on the blogs you love.” You, the philanthropist, dedicate some amount per month ($5? $50) in advance. Automatically the money is distributed in proportion to the amount of time you spend at each of the sites.

This assumes the blogs you read have their Kachingle button in place. Note the absence of one here. I still haven’t even figured out how to count my stats. (Since this was posted, Steve Outing of Editor & Publisher has written about Kachingle’s competitors.)

Szanto agrees that it’s easier to find arts critics than investigative journalists, and it’s easy to agree. When U.S. 1 Newspaper went weekly more than 15 years ago, I was doing both business and arts reporting. We found a terrific arts editor, Nicole Plett, and I relinquished the arts portfolio – until now. As part of my volunteer gig here, I encourage myself to do dance reviews.

It’s the good and the bad that the arts attract writers willing to work for little or no money. Fellow members of the Dance Critics Association have been bemoaning that for years, and it’s worse now. Those with outside support (inherited money, spouse support, a day job, an academic job) are the ones who can afford to devote some serious time to arts writing, whether for print or online.

Having left my staff job, I can imagine doing dance reviews for free. I’m doing that here because I feel strongly that, since I’m trained to do it, and if I can possibly find the time, the dancers deserve that effort. And I’m willing to do basic reporting for free, to go to an event and spend a couple of hours reporting what was said, on the hope that the information will be useful to somebody in the future. But I can’t imagine doing a day-long or longer business reporting job for free. Thankfully, I can still get paid for that.

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3 thoughts on “Journalist’s Choice: Pitchforks & Burning Tar — or Kachingle?

  1. Thanks for mentioning Kachingle in your blog post. It’s easy to add the Kachingle Medallion to your blog – just takes a few clicks with Blogger – but the reason you couldn’t figure out how to do it is we haven’t actually launched yet. Our homepage, which you obviously found, it just a teaser. We will be launching in late July. BTW, I was interviewed by NPR’s “On The Media” awhile ago, you can find a link to that story and others on our corporate blog. And I will be on an upcoming panel on business models in Washington DC May 17th along with Steven Brill (promoting subscriptions) and Walter Isaacson (promoting micropayments). Of course I will be promoting kachingling!

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