If you read this blog from time to time, you know that I've posted about newspapers' cutbacks in book criticism (including here and here and here). Among major metropolitan dailies, the main reason for the cutbacks is the firing (or "buyouts") of the papers' book critics, many of them highly-respected and of long standing. But I've also made it clear that it's not only book coverage that's dwindling; the trend is toward the diminution of arts coverage in general.
Among the recent casualties is the architecture critic at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Linda Mack. Architecture magazine reports that Avista Capital Partners, a New York investment firm, bought the Star Tribune for $530 million in December "and has been trimming staff ever since."
Although newspapers' architecture critics cover work beyond their own geographic borders, they provide an invaluable perspective on what is essentially a local art form. In the article, Mack celebrates [the Twin Cities'] "unbelievable cultural-arts boom. I got to cover Cesar Pelli's public library here, Jean Nouvel's Guthrie Theater, Herzog & de Meuron's Walker Art Center—I had a great run."
I can't speak to the situation in the Twin Cities, but I've had reason to value good local coverage of architecture in other large cities experiencing major growth. Beth Dunlop, an award-winning architecture writer, was The Miami Herald's architecture critic when I lived in Miami. Her understanding of South Florida's history and cultural climate, combined with her deep knowledge of architecture, gave her a perspective that would have been difficult for any writer from outside the area to match. Not only did The Herald's readers benefit, she also generated necessary and important dialogue about public buildings in the community.
Speaking to Architect magazine, Claude Peck, the Star Tribune's fine arts editor, said that "arts and metro reporters are now covering architecture as best we can." We all know what that means. Mack is now freelancing. Let's hope the Star Tribune at least has the smarts to make use of her services occasionally.
Note: In an interesting trend reversal, Beth Dunlop is again The Miami Herald's architecture critic, after serving in that role from 1979 - 1993. Here's a recent story, about the Orange Bowl stadium.