Art Works Blog

The Sum of Its Parts: Covering the Arts in Charlotte, North Carolina


Wrapping up our coverage of the three finalists of the Knight/NEA Community Arts Journalism Challenge, we're heading south to Charlotte, North Carolina, where several media outlet have joined forces to broaden their reach in covering the city's arts scene.

The Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance, or CAJA, is a collaboration among the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and five major media players: the Charlotte Observer; commercial station WCNC-TV; public radio station WFAE; African-American interest website; and online civic and cultural magazine Charlotte Viewpoint. The idea behind the alliance is threefold: to commission professional arts journalists to produce stories that can be shared among the CAJA partners and featured on their respective platforms; to provide training for aspiring citizen art journalists; and to develop a mobile app designed to encourage reader interaction.

The first goal of the project, to commission pieces from professional arts journalists, started with a bang this fall during the project's pilot period. At that time, the partners received funding that they invested in sending out reporters to gather and tell a multitude of stories over a six-week period.

Jen Rothacker, innovations editor at the Charlotte Observer noted, "With the pilot it was fast and furious. We were producing arts journalism like mad. Some of the stories that stand out for me are UNC-TV and the fabulous videos they did that got lots of traffic on our website and was something that we would never be able to do on our own. Qcity metro writes about people that just aren't on our radar and I tell you I really miss having those stories."

Observer executive editor and CAJA co-founder Rick Thames added, "The community noticed even in that brief period. People noticed that something was happening." He added, "Some arts organizations in town that had never had anyone report on them at all, suddenly had three or four major media outlets putting them in the paper or on the air."

The second project element, the training component, got the full treatment recently with the Charlotte Arts Journalism Conference: Covering The Arts held on January 12. Sessions included How To Be A Successful Freelancer: What Editors Expect, Making Great Video for TV and the Web, and Trends In The Arts. A diverse roster of speakers featured reporters from print and broadcast media, journalism scholars, arts administrators, and artists who all brought their decades of experience and unique perspectives to the 125 attendees.

In a post about the CAJA conference in Creative Loafing (a local weekly covering arts and entertainment) Mark Kemp quoted Rick Thames delighted reporting that, "This conference exceeded our expectations. Who would have imagined that more than 100 people in Charlotte would give up a Saturday to learn how they might become freelance journalists covering the arts? Everyone I talked to was happy just to be among others who shared their passion."

Thames continued, "I think there is growing interest [in arts journalism], and it is coming from the people who choose to spend their time at the growing number of venues. That includes both high-profile institutions like the Bechtler, the Mint, and the Gantt. But it also includes dance troupes, poetry slams, and community theater."

Up next for CAJA? The partners will be developing an app to encourages reader interaction and cultural participation. Stay tuned....

Want to know more about NEA support for arts journalism projects? Join us for an Art Works guidelines webinar with Local Arts Agencies Director Michael Killoren on Tuesday, January 29 at 4:00 pm ET. Can't make the webinar? Not to worry, we'll post an archived version soon after the event!


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