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Drinking My Milkshake

There is much hand-wringing these days among arts journalists about the death of arts criticism and journalism. As goes print media, so go its gatekeepers, reduced from comfortable staffers to itinerants, blogging for their dinners. The Philadelphia Inquirer has one staff theater critic left–and I’m guessing that’s because he still earns his keep as Travel editor–but I remember the days when Fine Arts editor Jeff Weinstein was prohibited from using freelancers. I knocked on that door several times, only to be rebuffed (and rightly so: union rules); now the barbarians are on the inside, the door’s been locked behind him, and the union… well, perhaps that rattling in its lungs isn’t fatal, but I’d still put my money on it for the death pool.

So what’s the problem with freelancers and why should you care? Freelancers can save newspapers money during tough times and still provide regular content, right? Wrong. Freelancers aren’t just itinerant, we’re mercenaries too. If the Inquirer has a milkshake and Vogue has a milkshake, but Vogue’s is bigger and tastier, I just might reach my straw all the way into theirs, and leave the Inquirer’s arts coverage to melt until I’ve finished. I’m the monogamous type, and busy enough in my personal life that I haven’t really been moved to check out any other flavors, but hey, a few more downticks in the economy, and I might just get hungry again. It’s a setup that’s bad for the arts, bad for readers, bad for writers, and suicide for the newspaper. 



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