The Deseret News is justifiably proud of its coverage of the arts. Each Sunday, our Arts and Entertainment section is filled with information, analysis and critique of upcoming and ongoing events and issues. We have a dedicated staff of reporters working in this area: William S. Goodfellow and Dorothy Stowe on music and dance, Jerry Johnston on literary arts, Ivan Lincoln on theater, Chris Hicks on film, Richard P. Christensen on visual arts, and other staff members who contribute from time to time. Many of them have won awards and recognition from their peers and the community for their work.

Recently a publication came across my desk that provides an interesting look at media coverage of the arts. The Gannett Center Journal devoted its Winter 1990 issue to this subject, offering an interesting look at why arts coverage is an important part of modern journalism.Arts and media are a natural pairing, the journal editors noted.

"Progress in the law, religion, family and schools - the conservers of social values - tends to occur at a glacial pace. Like glaciers, they permit one to glimpse the transformed landscape only when the ice has retreated. Arts and media, by contrast, move at the speed of light and reflect the ongoing social change as quickly as any modern institution. Like a drug that enhances perception, works of art and newspaper headlines enter the bloodstream immediately. They capture the essence of a situation and hold it up for all to see."

Coverage of the arts - and the accompanying cultural values that coverage reflects - is not a new phenomenon. It has been a part of newspapers as long as there have been newspapers. An article by Leo Bogart in the journal gives an interesting perspective:

"Culture was a big news beat long before anyone conceived the notion of a news beat," he writes. "Men of letters like Richard Steele and Joseph Addison, writing in the Spectator and Tatler in the early 18th century, did not merely observe and report on metropolitan London life, they commented on it. They and their readers were fascinated by the world of books, painting and the performing arts, and their comments had a bite that the wittiest and nastiest of today's critics might envy."

It has not changed a lot in the centuries since. Today, he says, serious cultural commentary remains almost entirely the domain of the print media. He sees newspapers "as the principal channel for cultural criticism, and practically the only one in the case of life performing and visual arts.

"This does not mean that magazines and television ignore the arts; to the contrary, they are preoccupied with the personalities of the entertainment world. But they accept and even glorify what goes on in that world in terms of its own entertainment value, rather than judge it by standards of artistic accomplishment."

Coverage of the arts means more than providing a record of what is happening in the arts community. In general, notes John E. Booth in another of the journal's articles, "the arts critic has a unique opportunity to forward development of the arts." Booth quotes Lloyd Richards, dean of the Yale School of Drama:

"Criticism promulgates standards and provokes the artist to achieve those standards. It urges artists to do their most accomplished work. It supports their most daring explorations and understands their breaking new ground and appreciates their smallest efforts."

There are caveats, of course. Notes Booth: "Few would dispute that the critic has awesome power and can be a positive force if he or she is well qualified; if editors and publishers understand the uses of such power and the place of the arts in our society; and if the arts audience develops the knowledge and independence to be guided rather than dominated by the critic."

At the Deseret News, we realize we don't reach this higher plane every time. But it is something we strive for. Sometimes we face limitations imposed by time, space and manpower. But we do have a deep commitment to arts coverage because we know that our arts reflect our society in ways few other things can.