Who Has Better Arts Coverage?

On Twitter, Doug Most dissents from a claim in the final paragraph of my Phoenix story, in which I note that “the Phoenix‘s arts coverage remains better than the Globe‘s.” The Globe has won three Pulitzers for criticism since 2008: Mark Feeney for his work in photography; Sebastian Smee in art, and Wesley Morris in film. And yet I say the Phoenix is better! Risible, literally:

Most is kind of right. That line was inappropriately offhand, especially since the Globe‘s coverage has been so excellent in recent years. At an absolute minimum, the Phoenix‘s arts coverage isn’t so much better that I could’ve expected to get away without a challenge. So I regret writing “better.” That’s probably not true.

I have three further thoughts:

One, my assessment was based on the legacy of the Phoenix‘s criticism. The paper helped create a critical tone and perspective that is now widely in use, and it is still publishing some of the people who helped bring that tone alive. The context for the last paragraph, which Most feels was lacking, seemed obvious to me from the body of the article. But maybe not—I don’t really get to decide what’s obvious and what isn’t.

Two, alt weeklies have been notoriously underrepresented in Pulitzer voting. Lloyd Schwartz and Jonathan Gold are the only alt weekly writers who have won Pulitzers in the criticism category, which means a critic like Robert Christgau, who is a giant of music writing, has been passed over. But that means much less today than it did 10 or 15 years ago, and I’m remiss not to have mentioned the Globe‘s recent wins.

Three, I do in fact believe that the Phoenix‘s arts coverage in several areas is less uneven than the Globe‘s. I prefer the Phoenix‘s popular music writing, and I think Carolyn Clay is the best theater critic in the city. I also think Peter Keogh is an excellent film writer. (Is he better than the Globe‘s combination of Wesley Morris and Ty Burr? Probably not, and Morris’s Pulitzer is well deserved.) On the other hand, the Globe publishes much more criticism of visual art and literature than the Phoenix does (like, a lot more), much of which is first rate.

Another problematic detail for me is that the Phoenix has the luxury of going to press once per week, and it’s possible that some of its criticism is consistent simply because there’s less of it. Which, of course, shouldn’t be a knock on the Globe.

More to the point, I owe the Globe‘s A&E department an apology, and I owe a thanks to Most for getting on my case. Even if the remark in question had been better supported, it’s an opinion, and it’s the kind of opinion that is so big and generalized as to be mostly useless. I wish I had written that the Phoenix‘s criticism is still quite good and left it at that.

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