Arts writer urges boycott of San Diego Union-Tribune
A disgruntled arts blogger has caused a stir in the San Diego arts community for urging freelance writers to boycott the city's largest newspaper, the San Diego Union-Tribune. The kicker is that the call for a boycott was posted on the newspaper's own website.
Katherine Sweetman is an artist who was also a contributor to the U-T's visual arts blog, called "Sketchbook." On Sunday, Sweetman published a blog post criticizing the newspaper's arts coverage and its decision in June to lay off Robert L. Pincus, its longtime art critic and books editor. The newspaper's music critic, James Chute, has taken over as art critic.
In her blog post, which appeared on the U-T's website for several hours before being removed, Sweetman pulled no punches in expressing her unhappiness with the state of the newspaper. "We hate the Union Tribune," wrote the artist. "We hate the way they abruptly ended the tenure of the most important arts critic in San Diego's history. We hate James Chute's pathetic coverage of artists-- which just makes us look bad (seriously, read his stuff)."
Sweetman wrote that contributors to the U-T's arts blog are unpaid and are asked to contribute one blog post per week. "It seems, to me, visual artists should be boycotting the Union Tribune not writing for them-- for free!" she wrote.
According to a report in the Voice of San Diego, blog contributors write their own content and post it directly to the U-T's website without editing.
Sweetman's blog post quickly went viral and was reproduced on various arts websites. Pincus has responded to the online debate via Twitter. "I think Katherine did everyone a good turn by creating the dialogue you're having. She made a stand for journalism as a profession," wrote Pincus on his Twitter account.
In an e-mail interview, Sweetman said her blog post was "a gesture
for Robert Pincus. There was a serious gap of thoughtful coverage since
he left, and I feel we were needed to fill some of that void."
She said that she did tell her "fellow bloggers my opinion on the matter, but I was acting alone." The U-T has not communicated with her since removing the blog post, she said.
Jeff Light, the U-T's editor, told the Voice of San Diego that "we think the arts are important; we're doing everything we can to come up with new ways to enliven the conversation."
Here is Sweetman's original U-T blog post, which she has reproduced on her personal blog.
My First and Last Article for the Union Tribune
An Introduction/ Resignation (A Small Gesture)
In an effort to step up the appearance of supporting the visual arts, The Union Tribune has graciously offered a handful of artists, scholars, and arts professionals the opportunity to write for them-- requiring only one blog post per week (52 per year). And the pay? Oh... no pay.
Arts are very important to the Union Tribune but... so is money.
I accepted one of these positions. It was exciting. There were no rules, no journalistic constraints, no editors, no... tech support. We knew right away we were special.
We were a small army of of advanced-degree carrying practicing artists, college professors, and arts writers ready to take up the challenge of solving the lack of arts coverage in San Diego and fixing the mess the Union Tribune created when it laid off its only Art Critic, Robert Pincus, last June.
We were assured that we were not taking Pincus' place. He had, in fact, been replaced by James Chute, formerly the Music Critic and Special Sections Editor. Chute had never written anything on art before, but he did have a Music degree so... he was clearly qualified to handle visual arts too. But we decided to help him anyway.
And then it hit us.
We hate the Union Tribune.
We hate the way they abruptly ended the tenure of the most important arts critic in San Diego's history. We hate James Chute's pathetic coverage of artists-- which just makes us look bad (seriously, read his stuff).
We hate editor Jeff Light and the private equity corporation pulling his strings.
AND we also hate their conservative politics of the Union Tribune (endorsements of John McCain for president 2008, Whitman 2010, Fiorina 2010, etc.)
It seems, to me, visual artists should be boycotting the Union Tribune not writing for them-- for free!
When I say "we" in the text above, I may only mean me, but you may want to include yourself in the statement "We hate the Union Tribune" if you value paid and knowledgeable arts writers, like having an arts critic, think the people of San Diego are smart enough to want art criticism, or even if you hate their political values.
Yes, it's true it's hard to find a writing gig that pays well. It's hard to find a writing gig that pays at all. But I personally will be taking my all free writing elsewhere.
-- David Ng
Photo: a view of San Diego bay. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times
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