Art and journalism …sometimes a fine line…

This past Saturday members of the group Latitudes – an independent Barcelona-based curatorial office – hosted an event for the “Fit to Print” production team at the New Museum in the Bowery neighborhood of lower Manhattan. In what turned out to be a soggy Thanksgiving weekend here in New York City, the New Museum had an exceptional turnout for those seeking the anti-football and leftover turkey hangover.

For the past few months the New Museum has been hosting an exhibition called “The Last Newspaper”.  The focus of the exhibition rests on the assumption that the legacy newspaper business won’t be crumbling anytime soon, but our interpretation of what constitutes news just might.   The mission of the exhibition is on how people are affected by what they see and read in the news.  In a sense this exhibit is ahead of its time, but it is also behind it.  Exhibition-goers are allowed to glance non-traditional ways in which news can be interpreted.  On the top floor of the gallery is a room filled with cocktail dresses each designed with interwoven newspaper headlines and photographs.  Who wouldn’t want to go to a dinner party wearing a sparkling dress with images of the twin towers collapsing or of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina plastered from head to toe?

As you gaze through the three floors of newspaper photographs, headlines and sculptures, you can’t help but think of deceased artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.  As a neo-abstract artist in the 1970s and 80’s, Basquiat had the imagination and spirit to mix current and historical events with modern art.  In a monumental 1983 work titled “Defacement (The Death of Michael Stewart)”, Basquiat created a painting which focused on the police beating of New York City graffiti artist Michael Stewart . I would imagine that if he were still alive, Basquiat would have been intrigued by this exhibition.  It wouldn’t be fair to classify it as news transformed into ‘pop culture’, but we can perhaps settle for ‘news culture’.

As we began to gather for the panel discussion for “Fit to Print”, I had to be called back into the room by a friend because I was too intrigued by the wall-to-wall displays of vintage newspaper front pages in one of the rooms.  It was hard not to examine the way in which newspapers implemented multiple sub-headlines back in the early part of the twentieth century.  In a way, many start-up news websites are creating similar sub-heads to draw reader attention in the vast wild west of search engine optimization.   This would be a topic our guest speaker, Jason Fry, would speak about during our panel discussion.

Jason Fry, who spent nearly 13 years at The Wall Street Journal as a columnist, editor and projects developer for what would become, joined the “Fit to Print” discussion along with Carmen Cusido, a recent graduate of Columbia Journalism School and current staff reporter with The Trenton Times.  The discussion was well-rounded and covered a lot of ground within the world of digital and print journalism.  Fry, who was one of the first interviews we conducted for the project, described his early dealings with the web at The Wall Street Journal, “The web version and the print version were two completely separate operations”, he mentioned.  He also described his fear for the newspaper industry now. “The question is ‘what will the emerging business model [for news] look like, and how long will it take to get here?”, stated Fry. For Carmen, the questions weren’t geared so much towards her previous experience, but rather how she is holding on to her current position as beat reporter for The Times. “There are only a certain number of stories we can cover”, she mentioned.

Lets hope that more exhibitions will crop up in the near future which detail not only the history of the newspaper industry, but also the significance of the digital revolution.  How will future generations look back upon the early part of the twenty-first century and the way in which journalism was reinvented?


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