Riffing On the Tradition: The Times They Are A-Changin'
[On tour in the U.K., musician Evan Christopher continues to reflect on the loss of daily print news service in New Orleans.]
Plain and simple: The impending loss of daily news service in New Orleans is an embarrassment.
Life on the road this week has been funny enough, without having to explain to people in tiny hamlets in Northern Ireland why we don't have a daily paper. Like many of you, who tour in the summer, I try to be a good ambassador for our city, really I do. I never make the mistake of letting audiences think that New Orleans flooded because of a hurricane, I tell them that if they're curious about how we've progressed since 2005, to come and see for themselves. Sure, I often have to admit that things have changed some, but I do my best to assure them that it's still the most unique city in the United States with a rich culture replete with vibrant traditions. Lately, however, it's been a challenge to be as enthusiastic.
A couple days before this leg of my summer tour, my wife and I had a wonderful dinner with friends and the Times-Picayune situation dominated the evening's conversation. We decided to ask for some advice from Warren Buffett, and as many of you know, he actually responded. My editors here made the decision to include his reply in my follow-up column despite my reluctance, and in the slew of responses that followed, from business news bloggers to the BBC, many people missed my point.
To clarify, I wasn't asking Mr. Buffett to save our newspaper, just like here on the road, I'm not sharing New Orleans music to help our tourism industry. I was making a defense for our culture and its economy.
You see, I moved to New Orleans in 1994 to "know" New Orleans, not because I needed a place to "believe in." What's the difference? Believing in a place, or a way of life (or oneself) tends to focus on a present, even fixed, set of conditions or qualities. But, when you try to KNOW and understand a place (or oneself), you become open to possibilities and change.
Too much energy devoted to protecting "the way we do things," the fetish for nostalgia, and selling traditions instead of practicing them is how aspects of culture (print news or live music for example) become viewed as dispensable luxuries. Don't get me wrong, I'm not begrudging anyone their sentimental attachment to our 175-year-old paper. I'm only saying that's not the basis for a very strong argument to keep it going.
I asked friends in Ann Arbor and New Jersey what we could look forward to: Three days of reduced quality print news engulfed in advertising and a "news-flavored" website with more emphasis on reader commentary than content. It's not good and is nothing less than an attack on our values, and our fragile community.
The cultural workforce, as opposed to entertainers, need to remember that our power is the ability to use our creative energies to drive our community's identity and bolster people's courage to think bigger. This in turn, can promote a healthier, more tolerant society. The point I was trying to make these last few weeks is that if we don't spend some time learning how to leverage that better than our daily news did, the next parking lot rally might be for us. ...What? An exaggeration? Maybe you wouldn't think so if the news of this week's approval of a 30% cut for statewide arts funding made it to nola.com.