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Finding Their Own Way
Can Classical Music learn how to shape its future by observing changes in other disciplines?

by Drew McManus
March 14, 2005

Illegitimate journalists. Rogue columnists. Bloggers. To some veteran reporters and journalists, these can be interpreted as fighting words. But a growing segment of the American population find these new outlets for news and opinion a welcome alternative or supplement to their daily dose of traditional print news.
At first, major news outlets attacked bloggers and online columnists as illegitimate sources of inaccurate facts and painted them as nothing more than 24 hours rumor mills exempt from the rules and regulations of genuine media outlets. They were professionals; these new people were barely hobbyists.
And to some degree, they’re correct. Online writers are exempt from many of the ethical and regulatory hurdles traditional media outlets must deal with. Anyone can do it so long as they know how to use a computer and gain access to the internet.
The column you’re reading right now finds itself on a website promoting the fact that it publishes partial opinions, in its about us section it declares that:
“There is no such thing as an 'impartial observer.' We all have our biases and unique point of view.”
It features a variety of writers who present their opinions and observations about a variety of topics. Some use facts to support their positions, others present anecdotal evidence to the reader and allow them to draw their own conclusions.
Apparently, many people out there find this approach appealing since the Partial Observer’s average traffic rate has been steadily increasing since its inception.
In another example, I would point to my other column, Adaptistration, which focuses on the highly focused issue of orchestra management issues. Over at that website I’m considered a blogger, but here at The Partial Observer I’m a columnist. 
The main distinction is that my articles at the Partial Observer appear on a regular schedule, every other Monday in fact (except the last scheduled publishing – I took my first week off in over a year). Whereas at Adaptistration, I publish something every weekday and sometimes on the weekends, but in actuality I can publish as little or as much as I like.
My Adaptistration weblog was born of necessity; arts and culture reporting in America was (and is) on a scary downslide, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t interested in reading about it. Online hubs of cultural discussion and reporting are becoming more and more popular each month. Even niche subjects, like orchestra management, develop a dedicated following.
And this growth has sparked some intriguing interactions with those who write professionally for mainstream media outlets. Since beginning my foray into online writing, I’ve had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with a multitude of veteran cultural reporters and music critics who work for mainstream media outlets.
The vast majority are very hard working, insightful people who care passionately about their respective area of art and culture. However, there are a few (I’m grateful that there are very few), who see the slew of online writers as a scourge of illegitimate, inaccurate, heathens who only muck things up for the long-established media industry.
I’ve had the displeasure of running across a veteran music critic who hasn’t been afraid to display their hostility toward what I and other culture bloggers write, or for that fact, even our existence in the world of cultural discussion.
This individual has actively lashed out at the inherent evils of blogging and espoused on the virtues of those who work for “legitimate” media outlets. The amusing side of this story is this very same individual has never bothered to check my professional credentials before launching an all out written assault against me and all who dare join the blogging culture.
Fortunately, a substantial portion of traditional media writers have come to see blogging and online columnists for what they actually are; good or bad based on what they write and how they present the material.
As a result, the blogging community has been joined by a number of established, mainstream writers who have discovered that the online forum allows them some more creative freedom and digital space to present their ideas and information to the public at large.
Furthermore, mainstream media outlets have learned to identify and use online writers and bloggers to their own advantage. They’ve discovered that some of them have a great deal of professional expertise in their respective fields and provide access to information and professional observation which otherwise wouldn’t be available to them.
It has provided them with an additional source of information and professional opinion which they can use at their discretion and as the need arises to produce an article which serves the readers the best way possible.
It’s these mainstream writers who will continue to thrive in a world continually consumed by sound bytes and news tickers. They’ll create a better, more relevant product and help secure their own necessity for decades to come.
So how does this relate to classical music? I’m not entirely certain; but interacting with an industry over the past year that’s in a transitional place in history has made me step back and look at classical music in a different way.
Is classical music, as an overall industry, more like the adaptive journalists I’ve grown to know and respect in the past year or is it more like the envious, spiteful journalists bent on discrediting the newcomers?
Sometimes I get a cold shiver when think about it too much.
If you want to learn more about blogging in general, there was a wonderful piece in last summer’s time Magazine. Additionally, there have been a couple of good articles about cultural bloggers in recent months, one in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the other in the San Francisco Classical Voice (both of which feature yours truly in one way or another).

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