Behind the scenes: See the Union-Tribune’s arts and entertainment coverage

We all have our favorite parts of the Sunday newspaper. One of mine is the Arts+Culture section. I love the design, the big pictures, the sections of the book, and in today’s narrow media world of content-serving algorithms, there’s always something to discover that you’ll never come across.

This section is led by Arts and Entertainment Editor Michael James Rocha, who is also editor of Friday’s Night & Day. Rocha He joined UT in December 1997 as a feature page designer. He previously worked as a reporter, copy editor and city editor for newspapers such as Orange He County He Register, San He Gabriel Valley He Tribune, Ontario He Daily He Bulletin. He graduated from California State Fullerton in 1994 with a Bachelor of Arts in Communications with an emphasis in Print Journalism.

Arts+Culture’s standout achievement is that it not only survived the pandemic that shut down all entertainment venues, but actually thrived on personal stories of how its creators persevered during the crisis.

In June, for the second year in a row, Arts+Culture was named the best newspaper in the country with a circulation between 90,000 and 199,999 by the Society for Features Journalism. Below, Rocha answers questions to provide readers with insight into the scope of functionality.

How have Arts+Culture and Night & Day changed post-COVID?

When Night & Day returned in July 2021, after an absence of over a year, we really had no idea what it would be back to. Will there be enough ads to support it? Thankfully, the arts and entertainment sector is back in a big way. Yes, some areas, such as theaters, still have audience issues, but for the most part, a lot of things are coming back.

During the pandemic, when much of the world shut down, we found an innovative way to write about art. We have tried not to go back to the old way of events driving our coverage. I’ve worked hard to write about art in a way I’ve never done before.

How many staff writers do you have?

We have one full-time art writer in-house. I’m George Varga, music critic and writer. Pam Kragen writes for her side of the news, but she’s also a theater and food critic. So she’s definitely part of the arts and entertainment team: Karla Peterson and Lisa Deaderick are both columnists on her side of the news, and they contribute to our coverage by writing about the arts in their respective columns.

How many regular freelancers are there?

It centers around five freelancers who round out their coverage of books, classical music, dance, and visual arts. One of these contributors is David L. Coddon, who also publishes his weekly Arts & Culture Newsletter, which is published every Thursday. He also has two other freelancers who only review classical music.

Freelancers seem to know themselves well — they may be experts. For real?

I think it’s a combination of expertise and passion. Some people don’t seem to be experts in their field, so to speak, but they are passionate about what they write. So much so that they become our “experts”. They really know the people, organizations and issues in their respective fields.

Who are the regulars readers may know on the byline?

Known around town as the former editor of CityBeat, Seth Combs does a lot of the heavy lifting on our books and visual arts coverage. His knowledge of the visual arts in particular takes us to corners of the community we’ve never been to before. He writes a monthly feature showcasing local visual his artists and through it he has introduced the people of San He Diegan who are truly amazing. Dennis Davidson also wrote about the book. Beth Wood writes about classical music, and Christian Herzog and Lukas Schulze write reviews of classical music. Marcia Luttrell writes about dance. Her David L. Coddon, who handles our newsletter, also writes about the arts and helps backfill theater reviews when Pam Kragen’s work gets busy.

What is the vision that guides your coverage? What are you trying to do?

Our goal is very simple. To celebrate and improve San Diego’s arts and entertainment community, and to reflect the diverse world we live in. It’s a simple enough goal, but not easy. San Diego is very productive. There’s a lot going on, from theater to music. The challenge is how to cover it all and do well. we really can’t. So we try to find a balance and write about the big ones and the not so big ones. Some weeks I do pretty good, some weeks I do not so well. Luckily, we get to do it again every week, so we’re trying to do a better job.

The art department was voted the best in the country in its department. why? What made it stand out?

Our weekly goal is to create lively, fun, and informative sections. I think we are successful every week. What sets us apart, however, is the special issue we produce several times a year that stretches our journalism muscle and delves deeper into community-based journalism. I wrote about racial equality and created a special section looking at what it means to be an artist in America.

Any preparations for the section?

The annual Fall Art Preview will be released on September 11th. It’s always been a busy time for us, and on September 11th we’ll find out why. The coming season is going to be busy.

Do readers provide feedback that could influence coverage?

We don’t hear much from our readers, so maybe we’re doing something right. However, we are always grateful when they contact us, as their suggestions often improve the way our community is reported. A lot of what we do relies heavily on our connections in the community. Sometimes I miss things, mostly because I didn’t even know about it. So much of our interaction with our readers is about letting us know about people and events we should know. Some of our best stories have come from reader feedback.

Rocha can be reached at [email protected].

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