By Gary Steuer, Bonfils-Stanton Foundation President & CEO
For many years, Bonfils-Stanton Foundation has been following the dramatic changes taking place in the local news landscape, and especially the impact of the declining local cultural journalism system on the arts and culture sector.
We hear repeatedly from the cultural organizations we support that for them to thrive, the public needs to have mechanisms for learning about their work, and that they need healthy, robust dialogue with arts critics to push and strengthen their work.
In the past we have invested in a significant culture desk and cultural news website via Colorado Public Radio (no longer operating); the cultural coverage of Confluence-Denver, an online creative enterprise news platform; and Arts District, the cultural news magazine program of Rocky Mountain PBS.
And last year we joined a group of other funders along with the Gates Family Foundation to support the merger of Denverite with Colorado Public Radio, that included a commitment to significantly increase cultural coverage in the combined platform, and the launch of a cultural journalism fellowship.
Working with the Colorado Media Project we determined that what was really needed was a comprehensive study of the current cultural news and information landscape in Colorado. The questions were: How do Coloradans want to know about and engage with arts and culture in our state – and how can media outlets and arts organizations serve those needs? How do underrepresented communities in particular feel they are learning about arts and culture offerings? What are current sources of information and what types of media outlets and/or platforms would strengthen communication?
The Colorado Media Project had already been doing extensive research into the broader local journalism landscape, as well as the national trends and context, so it made sense to work with them to do this deeper dive into arts journalism. Gates Family Foundation also helped support this work, and Colorado Public Radio/Denverite.com and Rocky Mountain Public Media participated as well. Corona Insights was commissioned to conduct a survey of a broad sample of Colorado residents – over 2,000 individuals were surveyed, a large enough sample to be broken down into different subpopulations by geography and race. And Hearken, a public interest media research firm, conducted a series of statewide “listening sessions,” talking with arts professionals, artists, entrepreneurs, etc.
Drawing on this qualitative and quantitative research, the Colorado Media Project summarized these 10 key takeaways from the research.
- The vast majority of Coloradans want to have more arts and cultural experiences. 92% said that if barriers could be eliminated (cost, travel issues, information, etc.) they would participate more.
- Many Coloradans are unsatisfied the with the cultural news and information available to them. More than half the population gets information from word of mouth and Facebook, but they crave curation and organization – how to make sense of the overload of information.
- There is a sense that arts and culture coverage tends to be aimed primarily towards a White, affluent audience. There is a need for more coverage of cultural events in communities of color, aimed AT those communities.
- Coloradans really want and need cultural calendar/listings information, especially around festivals and concerts. Again, the public feels the information is fragmented, spread across multiple listings sources, and really would benefit from being consolidated.
- People are hungry for coverage of more than the biggest, and splashiest cultural events. They want to learn about the hidden gems, the off the beaten track events. They feel like it is primarily the mainstream, blockbuster shows that are getting covered.
- There is a longing for a curated sense of connection and belonging – this was true for both audiences and artists. People wanted a deeper connection to one another and their community, through the arts.
- Arts and culture leaders and artists believe cultural journalism in Colorado has not kept pace with the growth and dynamism of the cultural sector. They feel that media coverage too often is dull and predictable, while the cultural sector is dynamic, risk-taking and evolving.
- There is an untapped opportunity to tie cultural organization memberships to cultural journalism sustainability. A third of survey respondents who do not currently have arts and culture memberships, said they would be more likely to purchase a membership if it included a portion that went towards some sort of cultural news source. More than 80% of those who already had arts memberships/subscription said they would be equally or more likely to renew if membership included a news subscription, even if the cost were increased.
- Younger Coloradans and people of color support local news organizations at higher rates. These demographic segments are less reliant on television for their news and tend to use their phones more heavily as a news source, and therefore are somewhat more likely to subscribe to the mobile news sources they find valuable.
- There are huge variations by age in how people get their arts and culture news. People 55 and older rely on television as their top cultural news source, while younger people predominantly get their information by phone, largely via Facebook, though in the youngest age cohort Instagram grows significantly as a source of cultural information.
We are excited about continuing to work with the Colorado Media Project and Rocky Mountain Public Media to implement the learnings from this research to pilot a consolidated Colorado arts and culture news and information portal that would aggregate the content that is now spread across multiple print, digital and broadcast media outlets.