in economics, movies

How clickbait is killing criticism

Alex Ross, writing for The New Yorker, on how criticism, as an industry, is dying:

The trouble is, once you accept the proposition that popularity corresponds to value, the game is over for the performing arts. There is no longer any justification for giving space to classical music, jazz, dance, or any other artistic activity that fails to ignite mass enthusiasm. In a cultural-Darwinist world where only the buzziest survive, the arts section would consist solely of superhero-movie reviews, TV-show recaps, and instant-reaction think pieces about pop superstars. Never mind that such entities hardly need the publicity, having achieved market saturation through social media. It’s the intellectual equivalent of a tax cut for the super-rich.

The drive to revamp cultural coverage has overtaken major newspapers, including the New York Times, just as the wider public has been rediscovering the virtue of traditional reporting. In the wake of the 2016 Presidential campaign, with its catastrophic feedback loop of fake news and clickbait, people have subscribed in surging numbers to so-called legacy publications. Do these chastened content-consumers really want culture pages dominated by trending topics? Or do they expect papers to decide for themselves what merits attention? One lesson to be learned from the rise of Donald Trump is that the media should not bind themselves blindly to whatever moves the needle.

For a brief time in human history, when information was scarce and difficult to obtain, personal ads in newspapers were able to subsidize a whole host of other kinds of reporting. Now that that period is over, consumers need to make new and different decisions about which kinds of criticism are worth paying for.

Ross’s piece is yet another lamentation of a bygone era. But he gives short shrift to the fact that new kinds of criticism and discussion have sprung up in its place — not to mention new ways of funding them, like YouTube ad dollars or direct subsidies from the audience. The more things change, the more they stay the same.