At the annual Dance Critics Conference in New York last weekend, John Rockwell, former editor of the New York Times Sunday Arts and Leisure Section, revealed that the paper’s recent crisis over the misbehavior of Jayson Blair and the subsequent resignation of editor Howell Raines might have important implications for the future coverage of dance and all the arts at the Times.
It was reported shortly after Mr. Raines’ appointment as executive editor that he had expressed displeasure at the arts coverage of the paper: It was too highbrow; more popular culture should be represented. Learning of this and disagreeing with it, Mr. Rockwell promptly resigned as arts editor and became senior cultural correspondent for the Times.
Since then, there has been a noticeable shift in the Times arts coverage. More rock groups and blockbuster movies are featured prominently on the front page of its arts section; the full page devoted to dance on Sunday has shrunk to two-thirds of a page or less, and daily reviews also have become shorter.
Mr. Raines pushed for a story on Britney Spears that pleased no one: Serious-culture types were aghast, and Britney Spears fans thought it was embarrassingly old hat.
With Mr. Raines gone, the good news, for some at least, is that the shrinking attention to high art evidently was not a corporate decision but solely the preference of Mr. Raines.
“Who knows what the next editor will prove to be,” Mr. Rockwell wondered aloud in a question-and-answer period conducted by conference organizer and dance critic Mindy Aloff. “The newsroom culture is macho, and philistine editors are threatened by dance.” He went on to note that National Public Radio is paring down its classical music and there is a growing tendency to target young audiences.
Someone in the audience told the story of an opera director who received a complaint that his audience was so old. “But of course, the audience is always old,” the director replied, and added, “and there will always be another generation of oldsters along to take its place.”
Arts editors, according to Mr. Rockwell, prefer features and previews rather than reviews. “Reviews, after all, are the critic’s business. There’s no way to control them.”