Arts v Sport is archaic debate

In a week in which sport has dominated national headlines, the coverage of arts in this country is brought into question, and the eye is firmly on the Australian media.

In a week in which sport has dominated national headlines, the coverage of arts in this country is brought into question, and the eye is firmly on the Australian media.

Can I say that, as a rugby league journalist in another life, the story that has been leading news bulletins and newspapers all week regarding the Melbourne Storm is hugely significant and deserves its multiple-page, lengthy coverage.

The story of salary cap rorting and the subsequent massive penalties including the stripping of two premiership titles threatens to destroy a 102-year-old sport that has so much tradition and has survived so much during its lifetime.

Over the past few days I’ve watched Facebook status updates from people in the arts, taken phone calls from people in the arts and received emails and text messages regarding the huge coverage of the Storm debacle. All are upset that sport gets such massive coverage and can’t understand it.

I’m in the advantageous position to be a rare beast – a sporting journalist who is also a theatre journalist. Whilst it is easy in the arts to shrug off the story of the past week, I ask all those to accept the fact that this is a huge story and I really don’t believe the media should be held accountable for the way they have covered this story, nor for the way they cover the arts.

Sport is obviously a way of life in Australia and the traditional and constant sport v arts debate is archaic, because sport will always win. The sooner we in the arts accept that, the sooner we may be able to move forward and improve arts coverage in the media.

The problem for the arts is this: the stories just aren’t interesting enough.

Put aside the Actor’s Company failed experiment and the Kookaburra collapse two years ago and the arts doesn’t really throw up the interesting, public-reaching stories that it needs to.

Sport faces the same dilemma, in another way. For years the National Rugby League implores journalists at its annual media briefing day to write about the good stories of rugby league and the fact that all players may not be the creeps the wider public sometimes chooses to portray them as. Despite this plea, the majority of NRL coverage not related to actual games throughout the year focuses on the negatives of the game. Why? Because, quite simply, it’s what people want to read. Which brings into question, do people want to read about the arts outside of the handful of arts pages that appear in the metropolitan papers each week?

My point here is that it is simply not in the nature of theatre or arts people to focus on the negatives. We don’t care if an actor has been caught drink driving, or if one performer is having an affair with another. Drugs and alcohol abuse is hardly talked about, even though the arts probably has the same style of drug and alcohol culture as sport.

To those who want the arts to get as much coverage as sport, the question is this: Do you know what you are in for?

Do you want your industry splashed across the first nine pages of the Friday paper because a disaster has unfolded?

Sometimes, what you have is better than what you think.

There is little doubt that arts coverage in this country could be improved and it would be worthwhile employing more journalists to work harder across the industry, but let’s not go over the top and consider implementing the same level and style of coverage other industries receive.

Theatre produces inspiring stories, magical moments and incredible emotion. Unfortunately, none of it rates in the mainstream media and especially to the end reader.

Never, ever will you be able to put a one hour arts show on television and expect it to rate. Won’t happen, and we need to accept that. We do, however, need to work with that we have, and work with it better. We can improve on how we do things now.

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