DigBoston wants to hear from Boston-area neighborhood artists and arts reporters
Every few months, we start a new intern cohort at DigBoston. And since we’ve taken to accepting larger numbers of interns—we currently have 16 for the summer—inevitably several are arts reporters. Naturally, we want reporting interns to know what we expect of them across the several major beats we cover. So it falls to me to give what I’ve come to call “The Arts Speech” at our first or second meeting with each new group of interns. In which I tell them a longer version of the following narrative.
Like my colleagues Chris Faraone and John Loftus, I wear a number of hats as co-owner of this newspaper. Even before we bought the Dig two years ago, we knew that we had the necessary skill sets to run it between us. But we also knew that we had our work cut out for us because each of us would have to do more than one job at a time—on both the business and editorial sides—to cover all the necessary bases.
As the partner with the visual arts degree, I became the arts editor along with my other portfolios. At a time in my life when I was seriously questioning what I think of as the whole “art thing.” Still, the Dig is not some arts theory journal. Whether I personally like one art trend or another at any given moment, each has its audience, and I don’t usually feel the need to trash people who happen to like work I don’t like. And as the arts editor of a general interest publication tasked with covering Boston and environs in broad strokes, it’s my job to help serve those varied audiences with articles of interest to as many of them as possible… from time to time, at least.
That said, however, I don’t believe in “art with a capital a” anymore. I believe that art is a form of communication. It’s a way that people express their thoughts and feelings about the world to other people. I further believe that creativity in such expression is something that’s innate in all human beings. But that said, creativity tends to be valorized in our capitalist society more in people from wealthier—and indeed whiter—backgrounds than it is in other people. And that first group are the people that tend to dominate the “official” art scene. The big galleries, museums, theaters, film houses, clubs, and concert halls (to brush up against the music beat that Chris Faraone is currently editing).
Which, in light of my points above, is not to say that we don’t cover those larger venues. We do. In a time when Boston’s remaining news outlets are devoting less and less coverage to the arts in general, it’s our duty to do so.
But I really want our reporting interns—and all our arts staffers and freelancers—to go out into our metropolis and find all the examples of human creativity that they can. Especially in working-class neighborhoods that the rest of the Boston press corps tends to ignore. And to cover that creativity. That human communication. Even when the people doing new and interesting things might not consider what they’re doing “art.” Because it isn’t happening downtown in the big galleries, museums, theaters, film houses, clubs, and concert halls. Because they don’t have fancy arts degrees. Because no one ever told them you become an artist by making art—not because someone waves a magic art wand over you.
That is a tough assignment for many Dig interns and staffers alike. For a number of reasons. Particularly the fact that it’s become expected that people seeking a career in journalism need to get a university degree in the subject. And fewer working-class people in this era of lower government spending on higher education are able to afford such a degree. Something my colleagues and I hope to help remedy through training programs that we’re starting to develop via our Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and by recruiting as many working-class interns for DigBoston as we can find. But journalists from middle-class backgrounds and above don’t necessarily know much about Boston’s working-class neighborhoods—especially working-class neighborhoods of color. Plus many of our interns and staffers aren’t from Boston proper or cities on its borders. So they don’t have the experience to even know where to start looking for interesting creative activity outside the big venues and art schools.
Meaning that I give my arts speech at least four times a year. Yet our arts coverage is still not as broad or deep as I’d like it to be—and we’re still missing all kinds of things that are happening in the communities that no one’s really paying attention to.
To help remedy that, here are takeaways for members of a couple of key groups that are hopefully reading this: aspiring journalists and artists from Boston-area working-class neighborhoods.
For people who want to write about their neighborhood arts scene: We’re looking for reporters who know what my colleagues and I don’t know. Who know, in short, what’s up where you live. What’s new. What’s exciting. What’s inspiring. What’s brilliant. What’s hot. Who can take that information and write it up for a citywide audience. And do it carefully and respectfully; so, if history is any guide, all the rich kid artists don’t rush in and colonize the new scenes you discover. And kill those scenes by imitating them before they can really come into their own while using their media connections to displace the people who created them in the first place in the public mind.
For people who are in the neighborhood arts scenes: First of all, know that your arts scenes are definitely arts scenes. And that what you all are doing is as worthy of solid news coverage as anything happening in the big downtown venues. Where you will one day be stars, if this newspaper has anything to say about it. So you have to do two things. First, know yourselves. Know you are artists. If you’re doing fashion, you’re artists. If you’re making beats, you’re artists. If you’re building things, or painting things, or drawing things, or speaking things, or singing things, or recording things—which relate to your lives and times and surroundings, and seek to communicate that information to others in any medium in ways that no one has done before—you’re artists. Then you have to tell us what you’re doing. Where and when. Why and how. You have to tell us what you’re up to at firstname.lastname@example.org. Not once, but always. Every time there’s something cool that you’re making happen. You need to tell us. At least two or three weeks in advance. A month ahead is better.
Eventually, if we agree that what you’re doing is exciting and new and needs to be covered in our pages, then we’ll assign a reporter to do that.
Same for the neighborhood reporters—and reporters-to-be—all of you need to talk to us at email@example.com. You need to tell us, “Here’s what you have got to let me cover for you.” You need to put PITCH and a few words on what you want to write about in the subject line of your email. Then give us a couple of paragraphs with more detail in the body. Followed by a paragraph about yourself. And links to anything else you have written; so we can get an idea if you’re ready to take an assignment from us. We don’t pay a lot. But we pay something. And we’ll help you start a career in arts journalism, if you’re new to reporting—difficult though it will surely be—should we think you have the talent to make it in the news industry.
Over time, I do believe that we can give all of Boston’s creative scenes the attention they deserve. We’ll cover the new, the different, the exciting, and the unusual. Or the old, if it’s new again. But we can only do that if artists and journalists from all area neighborhoods step up. Kick the doors of arts and media wide open. And stride through them, heads held high.
We’ll help you as best we can. So start sending those emails. And keep them coming.
Jason Pramas is executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston. He holds an MFA in visual art from the Art Institute of Boston.