One of the most important civic duties that a newspaper performs is to cover the activities of local arts groups — but it can’t do that effectively without also employing knowledgeable critics who are competent to evaluate the work of those groups. Mere reportage, while essential, is only the first step. It’s not enough to announce that the Hooterville Art Museum finally bought itself a Picasso. You also need a staffer who can tell you whether it’s worth hanging, just as you need someone who knows whether the Hooterville Repertory Company’s production of “Private Lives” was funny for the right reasons.
Can bloggers do that? Of course — and some of them do it better than their print-media counterparts. You won’t find a more thoughtful literary critic than Houston’s Patrick Kurp, a more imaginative commentator on music than San Francisco’s Heather Heise, or a better-informed art writer than Tyler Green of Washington, D.C. But blogging, valuable though it can be, is no substitute for the day-to-day attention of a newspaper whose editors seek out experts, hire them on a full-time basis, and give them enough space to cover their beats adequately. The problem is that fewer and fewer newspapers seem willing to do that in any consistent way. I don’t care for the word “provincial,” but I can’t think of a more accurate way to describe a city whose local paper is unwilling to make that kind of commitment to the fine arts.