Why journalism should copy the symphony

Though I constantly bemoan the fact that Indianapolis is not Washington state – my homeland – to anyone who will listen (and those who won’t), I must say there are a lot of hidden treasures here. On the whole, they almost make life in the Circle City tolerable.

(Hang on; there’s a journalism connection coming.)

Indianapolis is known for things other than speedways and Colts, namely the low cost of living. Forbes has ranked it at the top of the most affordable cities in which to live. And it apparently has a vibrant arts and culture scene. Who knew? Not this Northwestern boy.

In this spirit of affordability and the arts, I recently attended a weeknight concert/mixer for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra called “Happy Hour at the Symphony.” For $20 (actually $10, since I had a discount code), I got access to food, cocktails and a 90-minute symphony performance. Quite the weeknight.

The “Happy Hour” concept is aimed at the younger professional crowd, if not by design than by common logic: cheap food, drinks and good music. Oh, and the music – it’s a clever mix of traditional classical arrangements and modern pop standards from the likes of John Mayer and Coldplay. Yeah, they even had an alto sax and drum set. Edgy, I know. Roll over, Beethoven.

(Okay, here comes the journalism connection.)

Journalism, it seems, would benefit from its own “Happy Hour.”

Conducting the symphony orchestra that night was a young, multi-faceted 30-year-old named Steve Hackman. He did it all: conduct, play piano, sing with convincing elegance. Throughout the performance, he explained everything – history of the songs, relevance to today’s modern pop music, the interconnectivity of the harp and trombone. He even linked an iPod to the sound system for a neat demonstration.

There are countless journalism industry practitioners, commentators, observers, analysts and just plain bloviators currently discussing and opining on the future of the industry. (As SPJ President Kevin Smith put it: stop talking, start doing.) No doubt many have reiterated this theme (I’m thinking mostly of the very astute and poignant Jay Rosen and Jeff Jarvis). But I’ll say it again: The industry needs to focus on context and relevance, not ratings, wrapping “stuff” around the ads, and pushing out content to an increasingly bombarded and wary public.

The trumpeters, violists and conductors get it. It’s time for the editors, publishers and news directors to follow suit.

Scott Leadingham is editor of SPJ’s Quill magazine. He plays the trumpet from time to time, though not in a symphony orchestra. Twitter: @scottleadingham

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  • In addition to bloviator, how about street cleaner? When are you going to clean up your industry of people who (a) don’t belong there in the first place; and (b) have deteriorated to the point where they don’t belong there now?

    When are you going to professionalize so that you can boot out of your industry those who continually hurt people by not adhering to your own Code of Ethics?


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