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Letter From The Publisher: The Future of Arts Journalism

By Gary Wien

In the past year, many arts leaders have joined in a debate about the future of arts journalism. It's easy to see the writing on the wall. Newspapers have been laying off writers (especially those covering the arts) for years and are struggling to survive. Meanwhile, a movement towards Internet based blogs and digital publications has clearly taken root. Unfortunately, many arts leaders still cling to the idea that the best way to get news coverage and promote their shows is to find ways to work with traditional media rather than to support new media.

This is a shortsighted plan and one that does not account for future growth. The key to any arts organization, whether a theatre group or a venue, is finding and building a sustainable audience. Traditional newspapers may currently have larger audiences, but print media is not a long-term solution anymore.

Think about this for a minute. Kids in junior high or high school may never buy a newspaper in their lifetime.

As recently as two or three years ago you probably saw newspaper boxes on street corners, but those boxes are largely gone today. Many newspapers are trying to replace print boxes with website paywalls that force readers to purchase subscriptions in order to read more than say ten or twelve articles a month. This runs counter to the fact that kids today are growing up with much of the Internet available for free. When they come across a site with a paywall they're likely to simply go somewhere else — that is if they aren't getting their news from RSS feeds or links from websites like reddit.com or their Facebook newsfeed anyway. If they are reading the news online, chances are they're reading the news at Google or Yahoo instead of a newspaper site.

One of the keys for arts promotion these days is recognizing that the majority of people will no longer come from the “front door,” but from search engines. Traditionally newspapers and magazines have sold ads on premium pages — those expected to get the best results because they were either inside or back covers or located early on. Premium pages do not exist in the new media world. Ads on the main page of a website are no better than those located throughout because search engines bring the traffic, not a website's home page.

Another key for arts promotion involves reaching the mobile audience. Some people think that only teens are surfing the web on the phone, which is ridiculous. More and more adults are using their smartphones as their main gateway to the web these days. Chances are you do as well. Meanwhile, mobile advertising has generally been difficult because the ads are so small.

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A few months back, a popular comedy club in New Jersey asked its customers on Facebook how they learned about events. The survey results are obviously skewed in favor of those who learn about events via the Internet, but the responses were revealing. The younger the audience, the less likely they even thought about reading a newspaper. It's a generational gap that is getting wider every year.

As someone who grew up loving newspapers, this hurts. I think most people wish that newspapers would remain around forever, but change has already occurred. Print is simply too expensive and is too outdated for today's times when stories are written and circulated around the clock. Websites and digital publishing (instantly changing newspapers) will undoubtedly replace print sometime in the near future.

Some arts organizations across the country have gone so far as to purchase editorial space simply to keep traditional newspapers relevant. Rather than struggle with archaic life-support, why not advance with the mission of new media? To work with publications and websites that devote all or most of their editorial to the arts rather than a tiny percentage? To work with those who embrace technology rather than fear it? To reach out to a younger mobile audience and grow with the next generation of arts patrons?

As New Jersey Stage wraps up our sixth issue, we believe we have made significant moves in our first year to establish ourselves as a partner of the arts. We have continued to grow every month despite working with a very limited budget. We're not part of a giant media company. We're just people who love the arts and are artists ourselves.

We believe there are better ways to promote events. Instead of stories printed a day or two beforehand, as is traditionally done in newspapers, we think event previews published weeks before will sell more tickets. Not only does it allow for longer promotion, but it reaches people before their plans are made. Likewise, stories in our magazine offer a longer shelf-life as opposed to that of a daily newspaper.

New Jersey Stage magazine is a new media company that looks forward. We are designed for the mobile user with ads that look great on mobile devices and are highly effective. We believe in utilizing the full power of the Internet and take advantage of social media and search engines rather than block their services through ineffective paywalls. And we offer arts organizations the greatest value for their marketing dollars anywhere.

We believe that the best way to promote events is via a series of different ads, which is why advertisers seen in our magazine get ads here as well as online. They also receive complimentary banner ads on NewJerseyStage.com as well — all for prices less than they're paying for traditional media. Our ad rates were designed with the arts in mind with prices for every budget. We do this because we're not trying to make a profit, we sincerely want your arts organization and your shows to succeed.

Our goal for 2015 is to continue to grow and to build partnerships with arts organizations across the state. We believe we have something special going on here and we want you to be part of it. Spread the word about this digital magazine and help us grow. The bigger we become, the more people around the state will learn about your arts organization and the great arts community we have in New Jersey.

Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at gary@newjerseystage.com.

originally published: 12/19/2014



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