By Jessica Duchen
Two less than Christmassy pieces of news in music journalism have arrived within a matter of weeks. One is that the Ham & High – more than merely a north London local paper – is dropping its classical music coverage. The other is that the Birmingham Post would be too except that its critic of 48 years, the highly respected Christopher Morley, has agreed to keep writing without payment.
I hardly need to tell you this is sad. It’s plain logic that if a newspaper pays some of its writers, then it should pay them all. A national newspaper well known to me stopped paying its critics too for a bit – and although I understand it has since rethought, chances are it won’t be the last to try the trick.
If publicity is oxygen, classical music gets less and less of it – for reasons best known to higher-up editors whose eyes are most likely trained on clickbait and advertising revenue. This is boring for readers, bad for musicians and hopeless for an art that has been largely wiped from mainstream exposure and discussion – except when a conductor is (allegedly) misconducting himself, or everyone is counting the women in the Vienna Philharmonic New Year’s Concert.
Evidently diversification is needed. In the absence of paying sites, a good few unpaid ones have sprung up – most of them founded for idealistic reasons, to keep providing that oxygen for the arts and the high-quality reading that music-lovers want and need. Does that mean a newspaper with wealthy owners, read by many thousands, is justified in not paying its writers? Of course not; the two things are not even comparable.
But I fear it might be used as an excuse. I hate to say it, since I’ve been writing a blog, JDCMB, for nearly 14 years, but possibly those of us who provide free reading matter are part of the problem. This isn’t a comfortable thought.
Most of us started blogging because we are writers, and writers like to write and to find readers, and blogging is the easiest way there has ever been to do that. Some of us started the moment the medium was invented and quickly got high on its possibilities. Now, with the reduction in professional outlets, readers are following us to our own sites: when I last checked the stats for JDCMB, they’d more than trebled since summer 2016.
In some ways this makes the field “democratic”. The audience becomes the editor. If you don’t like a blog, for whatever reason, then you don’t read it. If you don’t like below-the-line comments, you don’t read those either, and music blogs are equally prone to that brand of hideousness (which is why I got rid of the comment facility from JDCMB – we still have non-anonymous discussions on Facebook). But people still have to make a living, so eventually the most active blogs will end up being written by those who have independent means or pensions, or who are lucky enough not to need more than four hours’ sleep a night.
Some of us have therefore started a “support this blog” facility on crowdfunding sites such as GoFundMe, Patreon and elsewhere. Perhaps the central blogging host sites will eventually provide a way to put up a paywall; until then, crowdfunding will have to do. Meanwhile, newspapers that pay some of their writers should pay all their writers, and pay them properly.
This is an edited version of a post that first appeared on JDCMB on 28th December 2017