I’m actually doing my first bit of party reporting tonight! I’d never do it for an offline source, to be honest, but for the web I can deal with it because I think people will be more focused on the pictures than my intro.
Weirdly enough, a coworker said to me recently that she doesn’t know a lot of people who actually have blogs anymore and write criticism. I would tend to agree. Personal statements are becoming aphoristic in length and circulating on social networks, especially Facebook and Twitter. I’d say a lot of online writing still has a bloggy tone, though — sidenotes about opinions, tangents, personal info (mentioning what you ate in a review of an exhibition, for example), use of the first person.
The listicle is also a form that seems made for the web. It works well with the slideshow format and allows the eye to digest a similar amount of text and image at the same time. The form also seems ideal for scrolling on a device (smartphone, iPad).
Totally. I have luckily been spared the focus on clickbait, but anecdotally I’ve heard that the drive for measurable hits and re-posting is pretty pervasive. When I was Editor of …might be good, I know my director went through Google Analytics on a biweekly or monthly basis to collect data on the issues. He was generally impressed with me and told me that our subscribers, hit numbers, and amount of time spent on a page went up during my tenure, with the Editor’s Letter being the most-clicked-on page. For that reason, I started writing more about goings-on in the TX art world, because we were a nonprofit that received funding from various sources in state.
In my current job, I’ve found that titles of articles have sometimes been truncated and sensationalized a notch to attract more hits, but I haven’t had a ton of hardline criticism about the way I write. I have gotten some notes about using words that are too sophisticated for the website (Artinfo), but I don’t know how common that editorial attitude is. (The Editor in Chief is formerly of the New York Times, which of course has different language standards.)
I’d be less likely to read a piece online twice unless I really needed it for specific research, and rarely will I come back to something I’m reading online if I don’t finish it in one sitting. As for the way I write online, see above for the “shortcut” comments. I am pretty obsessive about checking to make sure that the copy is smooth for online sources, since there is little editorial control over most online publications. On top of that, sources (galleries, artists, institutions) are much more likely to speak up loudly if something is incorrect online.
I’m not sure. I don’t feel like I get much feedback online on my writing. Do I need to join Twitter? Or write something for Rhizome?
Yes, the online format affects all of these aspects. As for length, the web is dangerous for me. When not constrained and with no editorial oversight, I definitely err toward the tl;dr category. I find it almost impossible to write anything less than 900 words in the review/analysis/profile category without a strict word count hovering over my head. I don’t know how to fix this neurotic, verbose tendency, other than writing more <100 word reviews or maybe an exercise in live tweeting. (Currently, I don’t have a Twitter account.)
It’s super easy to take shortcuts and post links online, which makes reporting much easier. When I was Editor of …might be good, an online art journal based in Austin, Texas that came out every two weeks, I was often tasked with writing a topical editor’s letter about developments in Texas — new appointments and things like that. I relied heavily on links to avoid having to do extensive interviews with people. This aspect of print journalism (“original quotes” from sources about things like new jobs or exhibitions that are going to go up six months from now) feels somewhat obsolete with the online format. Why not just post a link to a press release? Or do an interview closer to the time that the exhibition opens and post it right away?
I feel positive about being able to include many more images in pieces online, but I think they should still be used judiciously. I feel really sad when a piece that I worked so hard on becomes a footnote to a zillion-image slideshow. Even worse is when videos are uploaded that are produced by the commissioning institution (for example, a museum-produced video of a show). It completely takes away from the criticism and makes it feel like it’s a footnote to promotional material. I think there are ways to circumvent this — maybe by “footnoting” the promo video, VH1 Pop Up Video style? — but I sincerely doubt an external video production source would allow their footage to be used in that way.
A negative consequence of the long-on-images, long-on-links, short-on-text story is also that it takes away one of the greatest triumphs and challenges of art writing: the pain and pleasure of ekphrasis. The process of writing, for me, helps me to formulate my ideas. I often begin by describing something about the work and find that my mind has changed in the course of writing. The same CERTAINLY holds true of outside theoretical resources. If you can’t summarize the outside source in a way that makes sense in the body of the text, you might just want to skip it altogether. And if your description doesn’t hold up, the reader is going to click the link and go off on their own, abandoning your text. (The same thing is true with footnotes!)
Of course, images can help “ground” a piece that goes off on a tangent about another topic, but in that case, sometimes I don’t necessarily want the piece to be grounded in that way…
Absolutely. But first, I’d like to make a note about print vs. online articles. Even if a print article won’t appear online on the source’s website, I know that a piece in print is considered more valuable and will circulate in some way electronically eventually. Galleries often upload pieces on their sites, and sometimes artists will, too. (Interestingly, I almost never include PDFs or links of the pieces I’ve written exclusively for online sources on my website.)
As much as possible, I still try to follow the guidelines of print journalism, especially for reviews. That means, first and foremost, that I try to do descriptive justice to the exhibition. I don’t make assumptions about the level of knowledge readers have about other artists, unless it’s a broad topic (Abstract Expressionism) or canonized artist. Occasionally I’ll rattle off peer names, but I do so understanding that it’s okay if someone doesn’t bother to look them up later.
I still have my doubts about how web criticism will be historicized for future generations, so I take print super seriously, even if it’s not a very prestigious source. I try to keep in mind the question, What if a future scholar ends up using this piece as a primary source?