The founder of ArtsJournal talks about arts and new media

Seattle journalist Douglas McLennan is a leading national figure in Web journalism. Here he talks about his venture, the imperiled state of newspaper arts coverage, and why Seattle and Portland orchestras are not much noticed across the nation.
Founder and editor Doug McLennan and ArtsJournal.

Founder and editor Doug McLennan and ArtsJournal. None

Douglas McLennan is a Seattle-based arts journalist and critic and the founder and editor of ArtsJournal, the Internet's most comprehensive resource for news about arts and culture. Prior to starting ArtsJournal, McLennan was arts columnist and music critic for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He has written on the arts for numerous publications, including Salon.com, Newsweek, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, the London Evening Standard, the Tacoma News-Tribune, Seattle Weekly, and Crosscut. McLennan has been a music critic for NPR and a guest commentator on the BBC and CBC. He is a recipient of several awards for arts criticism and reporting, including a National Arts Journalism Program Fellowship at Columbia University and a Deems Taylor/ASCAP Award for music journalism. He is also the director of the National Arts Journalism Program.

McLennan is a graduate of The Juilliard School, where he studied with Beveridge Webster. He has taught at Juilliard, the Peabody Institute, and Cornish College and was artist in residence at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing in 1992-93. He has performed in the U.S., Canada, China, and Europe. McLennan recently performed as the guest pianist with the Lake Union Civic Orchestra in Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," a piece which he first played at the age of 16 at the Banff Festival of Music. He spoke recently with James Bash of Crosscut.

What made you decided to launch ArtsJournal.com?

I was columnist with the Seattle P-I and had previously worked at the Seattle Weekly. I had a stint at the News-Tribune in Tacoma. While at The P-I, I visited the Philadelphia Inquirer Web site one day and found a story about the Barnes Foundation having financial difficulties, and the story was already several days old. I thought that I should've known about the story but was unaware of it. Gee, I thought that there are probably a lot of stories every day in local papers around the country like this one that I should've known about. If you could put these stories in an arts section of your own, it would be really interesting.

So I came up with the idea of ArtsJournal on a Tuesday, came up with a name and registered it on Wednesday, and bought some books on HTML, because there were no blogging platforms — this was back in 1999. I designed the Web site over the weekend. I didn't know much about design, so it was pretty crude. On the following Monday morning, the site launched and has been going ever since.

How many publications do you look at every day?

I'd say about 250 in all. That means any publication about the arts that has a Web site worldwide in English. And we host 52 bloggers on the ArtsJournal Web site. The most recent blog posting from them is on the front page of the Web site, as well. The good thing about ArtsJournal is that it's a curated service. We define what the territory is and then pick out the most interesting things. The curation aspect of ArtsJournal is its strength, but it is also a weakness because the curation reflects mostly my taste.

As users have more access to more information on the Web, the sheer amount becomes overwhelming. So increasingly you have to depend on curators — other people — to find the good stuff that you want to see over time. So you find the curator whom you trust. That way, you have a way to navigate through a lot of information.

What time do you start looking through all these Web sites?

We start at about five in the morning Pacific time, and I have one person who helps me out by doing a couple of shifts each week. My second person just left to take another job. Usually it takes two to two-and-a-half hours to do a morning shift. That does all of the American papers. In the afternoon, I collect up things and start looking for European papers, African papers, and other papers. So it varies from four-and-a-half to six hours a day just in looking for stories.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Jul 16, 10:38 a.m. Inappropriate

too square for this boy arts journal is: i subscribe to artsjournal, but scarcely ever follow up the square stories to which it links. the problem is that mclennan's p.o.v. , his taste, do not show, come through, it's a compendium, average,
it looks to me as though he spent too much at the ordinary u.s. paper. focus is on the square. compare artsjournal to

http://www.signandsight.com/

which is the english language off shoot of the german perlentaucher [pearldiver] service which derives from der spiegel, a faily mass market weekly,

http://www.spiegel.de/schlagzeilen/

http://www.signandsight.com/
links to papers world wide, though by and large it is far too euro-us centric for my taste, does not link to indian or south african or aussie papers and mags which have interesting stuff.

the great u.s. coverage of dance and music is in the ny times and in the new republic and the nation and the new criterion and occasionally the new york review. since these are now available on the web, they obviate local critics in some ways. anyway: for who are the critics writing? do they, as people who spend the time to understand what they are experiencing in the arts, serve as bridges? antennae that link to the soiety aas a whole. or are they mere evaluators of consumer items? which is what most of the stuff served be the orchestras and major theater venue is. i would not want to be in the position of misha berson of the seattle times who is the main theater critic in town, the compromises she needs to make; and have some understanding of what a society might need from the arts too? hey, better buy yet another pair of shoes.

i confess i have not explored all the blogs at artsjournal. i found few of them of any interest. promise to give them another try.

as to seattle and the arts.
don't know the portland symphony but i think the seattle one is provincial for reasons of the taste to which it has to accommodate itself: carmina burana comes asailing in on the swan of tunela is a way of putting it to get a rise.

the theater stinks though there is a lot of it. i respect a single artistic director, bart sher, but he too has to compromise with what the theater goers to these expensive venues
will tolerate. nothing theatrical from here ever goes anywhere, the very few exceptions prove the point. there are no critics, yesterday's review of STREETCAR in Crosscut ...
http://www.crosscut.com/arts-beat/15854/
This+Streetcar+rides+a+little+too+smoothly/
how often to you find something as nuanced among the local critics. none of them know the origin or purpose of theater either in its deep psychic or social sense, and it is a superfluous for society or any of its strata. no end of important u.s. and foreign drama which never gets done here - the directors know that the seattle public will not consume it.


leaving the biggies, what with five interesting small theaters disparu during the past 15 years, you find yourself among small groups whose vision or understanding of theater is even more minor and inchoate and ingrown, more provincial. e.g. the wild geese players who do the annual bloomsday reading... irish americans most of them.. really are stuck in the time of joyce and yeats... and don't want to hear of anything else. and that is one of the best places to get stuck at. still.
mikerol

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