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Thursday, 3 September 2015

Editorial: Integrity and Arts Journalism.

Editorial: Integrity and Arts Journalism.

A few days ago, Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones published an article decrying the books of the late Sir Terry Pratchett as 'ordinary potboilers', as a lead in to a long and frankly somewhat fevered rant about how people were destroying literature and art with their low standards. It was, in all honesty, an odd article: You had this man - whose field of expertise is paintings, not even literature - professing that he'd never read a single Pratchett book (and that he never would), but that he was sure that their prose was lacklustre, their themes tired, and that they were cynical cash grabs.

People responded angrily, because why wouldn't they? Pratchett was a beloved author, one who recently passed away, and Jones had very specifically timed his article to come out around the time that Pratchett's very last book was being released. It was clickbait, and he was banking on making people angry.

But it represents a fundamental problem in arts journalism, even (in fact, I'd argue almost exclusively) among so-called professionals - that while people like Jonathan Jones will rage for hours about how the general public doesn't take art seriously, their cowboy journalism reeks of disdain for the subject matter they are writing about, reeks of not taking it seriously at all, of having the same 'who really cares' approach that they accuse everyone else of having.

After all, would any other sector of journalism do this - put forward information and opinions without any sources, any evidence, or any experience of what they're talking about? Well, yes, and we deride those news sources that do (the Daily Mails and Fox Newses of the world) appropriately for doing so.

Nor is this problem limited to Jones and his ilk, and their ill-informed opinions - misinformation is rife within arts journalism, and only becomes moreso the more popular the subject matter you're dealing with. Browsing news for Kingdom Hearts III, for example, I have variously found legitimate, large news organisations pointing to Youtubers as if their theories (theories which are usually not ever presented as hard fact) regarding things like content and release dates were gospel truths. I've literally seen the headline 'Kingdom Hearts III release date confirmed! By local psychic!' (that psychic turned out to be wrong, incidentally) on otherwise reliable news sources.

It's disgraceful, that when it comes to the arts, every news source seems to turn into the tabloids, and it speaks to a lack of respect for the subject matter in question - and if you, the journalists, don't respect the subject matter you're writing about, why should anyone respect what you have to say?

The Guardian has since attempted to cash in on Jones' fluff and the controversy he generated, putting out articles eagerly asking what Discworld book he should read, and rebuttals from other critics saying that he's wrong. It's a very obvious, very cynical way of cashing in on the stupidity of one of its writers, while also distancing themselves from the fallout, and gratifyingly nobody seems to be having any of it.

After all, the readers of arts journalism pieces aren't stupid - no matter what the people writing for them think. 

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