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The Future Looks Bright

August 3, 2007

It was back in the late 1990s when I first moved to the U.S. and embarked upon my career as an arts journalist, that I first heard about this magical organization called The National Arts Journalism Program. For 11 years until a lack of funds caused operations to cease in 2005, the NAJP nurtured the state of cultural writing in this country through amazing year-long fellowships for mid-career arts journalists, symposia, publications and other activities. I wanted one of those fellowships. The trouble was that by the time I had started to think of myself as a mid-career arts journalist, the NAJP was gone.

I didn't think the NAJP would show any signs of resurrecting in the coming years, at least under the current political regime. But as it turns out, I was wrong. OK, those juicy fellowships haven't come back, but the NAJP just announced its revival as a member-based organization aimed at promoting arts journalism once again.

Here is the organization's new mission statement:

The National Arts Journalism Program is a membership organization that works to:

- Advocate for arts reporting and criticism

- Improve the quality and increase the quantity of arts journalism

- Inform the public and the media industry of standards of excellence in arts journalism

- Support and mentor arts journalists

- Provide a network for arts journalists in all disciplines.

- Help develop standards and viable economic models for arts journalism in emerging digital media.

THE NATIONAL ARTS JOURNALISM PROGRAM SEEKS to improve the quality of arts and cultural journalism, as well as its prestige in American newsrooms. The extent to which journalism is probing or superficial, broadly engaging or exclusive, helps determine the level of public appreciation of the arts.

Arts journalism is indispensable not only to public awareness and understanding of creative expression. It informs the ways cities and regions relate to their artistic and cultural resources, and make decisions about investing in them.

Since 1994, the NAJP has sought to advance arts and cultural news coverage in three ways:

Awarding fellowships to nearly 124 arts and cultural journalists—critics, reporters and editors—seeking to excel in their work.
Publishing a series of research reports that shed light upon the news media's performance in the area of arts and cultural criticism and reportage.
Convening major conferences (and publishing related reports) on subjects ranging from cultural property and patrimony disputes to free expression in the arts.

The NAJP is the nation’s only meeting place where journalists and news executives interact variously with artists, arts and cultural administrators and funders, scholars and public officials. The program is a visible and vital presence within the journalism profession and in the larger national dialogue about the arts. In the largest sense, the NAJP is laying the foundation for the professionalization of arts journalism, a development of vital significance to every field of the arts—for without informed, reliable, factual journalistic coverage, the health of the arts in America will be at risk.

I can't wait to join up. Given the erosion in standards and coverage via-a-vis cultural journalism over the past few years -- concerns over what Newscorp's purchase of The Wall Street Journal will do to that venerable publication's arts coverage being the latest in a string of woes -- the NAJP's news is particularly welcome. Hopefully it will offer strong resistance to the Rupert Murdochs of this world.

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