The Media's Changing Landscape

Do you know how many hours a day you spend reading articles online? Most Americans slurp up content like mosquitoes at Bonnaroo, clicking link after link on Facebook, posting opinions on political events, starting debates about opinion pieces they've read. Yet somehow, this boom in content consumption hasn't translated to media outlets. Ironically, the news industry has been hit hard the past 12 years with steadily declining readership. Quick, free, and easily accessible articles are the culprit. The public has come to expect news at no charge, resulting in news sources losing their value. And with the amount of junk news out there, it's much more difficult for credible news sources to distinguish themselves. Click bait articles and cheap stories are ruining the game for everyone.

Earlier this year, MLive laid off 29 positions, an unfortunately common occurrence in the industry. All across the country, media outlets are struggling with little hope on the horizon. These mass layoffs mean less stories covered as overworked reporters spread themselves too thin. Publications have stripped their coverage down to the basics, and now focus on mostly investigative and political stories. 

With little support from the press, arts organizations are feeling the backlash. Fewer art critics, reviews, and pre-show coverage makes for fewer faces in the audience. People who relied on reviews to discover new shows or decide whether a show was worth the ticket are now on their own, and arts organizations are scrambling to fill the hole. Adrienne Brown of the Grand Rapids Children's Museum, Corey Lipsey of the Grand Rapids Ballet, and Ashley Roberts of Opera Grand Rapids all are part of the Cultural Marketing Group, a kind of mastermind group made up of marketing gurus from many different cultural organizations. They meet to talk about barriers, solutions, tips, and opportunities to collaborate and cross promote. One of their most successful ideas is the "Culture Pass". Inspired by a similar program in Chicago, the Culture Pass gives discounts and special offers for many different arts organizations in return for a membership fee. Another solution the group has discussed is hiring their own critic to review shows, exhibits, and performances alike. It's been done in Denver with positive results. However, this poses a problem of reliability, which is difficult to overcome.

While it's depressing to see less and less support of the arts, an increasingly undervalued pursuit, the media's changing landscape offers an opportunity for something new and different to arise. It's time for organizations to experiment, collaborate, and find solutions.