or those lamentably addicted, the Internet is creeping toward a total takeover of our lives. But maybe addictions can be ranked as more or less beneficent.
Certainly the presence of a Web site called ArtsJournal.com has added something important to cultural discourse.
What ArtsJournal offers is a daily summary, with links to the complete articles from print publications or Internet magazines, of what its editor and founder, Douglas McLennan, deems the most important high-arts articles in the worldwide English-language press.
If you trust his judgment, which seems pretty solid, he has created what he innocently calls "the best arts section in the world."
This may come as a shock to loyal loggers-on to the better-known ArtsandLettersDaily.com, which got started in mid-1998, a year before ArtsJournal. With some 2 million "page views" a month, Arts and Letters has five times the readership of ArtsJournal, although everyone concedes that such figures are slippery to measure.
Mr. McLennan, 45, is a former music critic and arts reporter who lives in Seattle. While Arts and Letters Daily appeals to an intellectual and academic readership, ArtsJournal covers what newspapers cover: art thefts, orchestras going under, music downloading, theater companies building new buildings and the like. Mostly it is reportage, with only occasional reviews of major events. Mr. McLennan calls his site "a conversation about culture."
His audience, he says, consists of arts journalists, arts professionals (curators, music administrators, even actual artists) and educated people from all walks of life with an interest in the arts.
The two sites were created during the dot-com euphoria of the late 90's, and both survived in large part because their financial expectations were too modest for them to crash very far. Mr. McLennan resisted temptation and has managed to putter along as a kind of gonzo outsider.
"Two months after I started, I got a buy-out offer of $1 million," he said in an interview in New York. "The woman on the other end of the phone said, `We can make you a millionaire by Christmas.' "
Mr. McLennan was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, studied piano in Canada and the United States and spent a year in Manhattan as a fellow in the National Arts Journalism Program at Columbia University. As a journalist he has worked mostly in Seattle, for The Seattle Weekly and The Post-Intelligencer, but devotes himself now to ArtsJournal and the myriad spinoffs his teeming brain is always devising.
Mr. McLennan confines the journal's links to the articles he highlights each day. But he has additional features, most designed to make a modicum of money, to keep the operation afloat and maybe even allow him to afford more than the minimal help he can now employ.
There is a subscription. (You get the summaries with or without links in your daily e-mail.) There is syndication. There are articles by Mr. McLennan providing an overview of continuing issues, with links to related stories. There will soon be an ArtsJournal streaming audio sideline. Just this week there are ArtsJournal-sponsored blogs by leading figures in the arts. And Mr. McLennan himself consults for various publications, writes freelance articles and is working with Minnesota Public Radio on a possible arts-news project.
He also toys periodically with turning the site from its current for-profit status into a nonprofit organization, allied with a foundation or other institution. But so far Mr. McLennan, an incorrigible lone wolf, hasn't found a partnership to his liking.
If there is a cloud on the horizon, it is the possibility that more and more publications will decide to sell their material, rather than give it away. The Wall Street Journal, for the most part, already does that, and hence does not really appear on either site.
"It's not particularly in their interest to cut us off," Mr. McLennan said. "I can be their biggest deliverer of traffic."
Mr. McLennan's main problem right now is figuring a way, economically and conceptually, to ease the burden of putting out the site onto others. Were he to fall seriously ill, that would be it. More imminently, he is planning a monthlong trip with his wife and daughter this fall to Africa.
"One of the nice things about the site is that you can do it anywhere," he said. "But you can't do it from where I'll be in Africa. I'm hoping to be able to hire two or three people.
"But while you would think doing the site would be easy, if you're looking at 1,000 stories a day, you have to have a sense of context to tell you which are important. It isn't easy."