Let the readers do the reviews...

Dateline: Thu 16 Nov 2006

A while back, a couple of readers suggested this blog post about the lack of coverage of the arts in the Indianapolis Star. Now the word on the street is that the situation has become so protractedly appalling and the arts community and Star readership so woefully underserved that the Indianapolis Business Journal will be taking a hard look at this in an upcoming issue. (God bless the IBJ, which really is the only game in town in consistent lively critical thinking coverage).

I did do some reporting on the dismal subject prior to leaving for Thailand. I talked to people in the arts community -- musicians, writers, patrons, spokesmen and women, directors, etc. Actually my interest was first piqued a year ago in October, when I looked at property in Downtown Indy with the thought of staying with the Star and buying a small inexpensive condo to minimize my commute time.

I met a delightful person in real estate who also had a handle on the arts; this person mentioned that a group from the arts community had visited Dennis Ryerson in the hopes of jazzing up the overall coverage. (This was shortly after the Internationale Ballet closed -- a loss that some said the lack of media coverage contributed to).

So I've pounded the pavement in recent months but what can one say? Here's how it stacks up: Bonnie Britton no longer does film reviews; nor does Chris Lloyd. All reviews are now wire. The theater beat was wonderfully served by my friend Nick Crews, who has moved on to a new job unrelated to daily journalism. Whitney Smith, who writes about classical music, told a gathering during a Spirit and Place panel discussion last Saturday that he'll be doing less and not more on his beat, since he's being assigned other stories. TV and radio have not gotten a decent look since Marc Allan left. On and on it goes. Perhaps the only segment to get regularly good coverage is visual arts, which part-time Star reporter Skip Berry still covers.

One woman told me she hadn't gotten any decent coverage for her non-profit arts group since Zach Dunkin had been removed as arts and entertainment editor -- and that was a few years ago.

All the while, the city's cultural smorgasbord is real and tasty. Arts patron and author Lou Harry of Indy Men's Magazine said he can't personally keep up with all the offerings on any given weekend. He, like the rest of us, would relish some critical local coverage.

But will it come? Sure, if readers provide it. Here's the response exec editor Dennis Ryerson provided in Monday's on-line chat, when a reader asked him about the dearth of theater reviews. (First the question, then the Gannett answer).

"Thanks, Dennis, for taking the time to field our questions. Can you speak to the point of who on the Star staff will be covering local theater in the foreseeable future? Will there be a "theater writer" going forward?

"I appreciate this question, as I appreciate the theater. When I arrived in town more than 3.5 years ago, I was pleased at the theater offerings that are available here. We are considering several approaches to create more buzz about theater. We will of course want to write as many preview stories as we can, telling readers of coming performances. We also will want to write reviews as often as we can.

"But we also are considering inviting readers to submit their own thoughts about a performance. A couple of us are meeting in a couple of weeks with the Theater League to discuss these ideas and, I hope, others.

"Thanks for asking the question."

And thanks, but no thanks, for reading the Star if you care about the arts.

comments: ruth@ruthholladay.com

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