Where do we go from here?
Evgeney Lebedev’s Independent Print, the newspaper group
which publishes the admittedly loss making Independent and Independent on
Sunday, has embarked on cost cutting measures which include ditching most of
the critics who write in the Independent on Sunday.
President of the Circle, Simon Tait, said of the decision,
which affects members of the Circle as well as other arts journalists, that
the arts have never been more popular with audiences, and audiences have never
wanted informed and objective review of performances more than they do today.
“Yet in a crass assessment of a newspaper’s role, and with no consultation with his own
journalists or readers, the proprietor – not, it seems, the editor – has wiped
the slate of arts writers,” he added. “This is a blow to arts criticism, but
even more to newspapers and the journalism that leads the world.”
Among those who will lose their jobs after 1 September, when
the last issue of The Critics section will appear include the
Visual Arts critic, Charles Darwent, Theatre critic Kate Bassett, and Tom
Sutcliffe, the columnist and TV reviewer, the paper’s first arts editor in 1986 when it
was founded. The Music writer Simon Price and the Film critic Nicholas Barber
will no longer appear weekly.
It is a blow to arts coverage and the arts in the United Kingdom
according to Alison Wright, an arts publicist in London. She added that it would leave “a
terrible gap” in intelligent arts criticism by national newspapers. “Publicly
funded arts organisations rely on intelligent arts criticism and critical
appraisals of their exhibitions and events not only to attract audiences, but
also for their funding applications and to attract sponsors and doneo,” she
Lisa Markwell, editor of the I0S, has insisted the
paper will still have an arts section but it will not be led by reviews. What
that means we must wait to find out.
“The arts critics have been made redundant from their
current reviewing contracts (as part of a wider process at the Independent
titles) but there will continue to be significant arts coverage – in a
dedicated arts and books section – in the Independent on Sunday and it is hoped
that the excellent arts writers will continue to contribute," she said. "The books pages
will continue as they are – with a wide variety of high quality features and
reviews.” Well, as somebody
more or less said in other circumstances, she would say that, wouldn’t she.
When proprietors wield the whip editors jump – one way or the other.
As for people continuing to contribute, that
simply means that what freelance contributors not on contract get paid goes down.
The National Union of Journalists said the cuts were being pushed through and loyal
contributors axed without warning and the staff were not being given the opportunity
to discuss alternatives and address their concerns over the impact on quality
The Circle has already addressed the issues these decisions by Mr Lebedev raise. We are well aware that the future for arts journalists in the print media at least is perilous. The topic was discussed when we held a one day seminar in April at the Victoria
and Albert Museum, part of our Centenary Celebrations, and we will be back discussing it again on Friday 27 September when our Drama section is holding a conference at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama on the future for
critics. But while we can protest, can provide a platform to discuss the
issues, can voice our concern as loudly as possible, our power to influence is not all that great.
That ultimately lies with the readers of the papers involved.
They can tell Mr Lebedev he has got it wrong. They do want to read reviews on Sundays. He can
tell them he needs to cut costs. Which is indisputable. But if the readers go elsewhere – and the paper’s rivals
are waiting in the wings to pick up the disaffected – then the need to
cut costs increases, the titles’ futures become even more problematical.
Enquiries about the Critics' Circle should be made to the Hon Gen Sec Rick Jones by email firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 020 8698 2460.