Make it Work
Make it Work
Robin Cembalest has been the executive editor of ARTnews since 1998. In that time she’s gone from overseeing the entire editorial side for the “most widely read art magazine in the world” to also managing its social media presence on Facebook and Twitter.
As an editor, Cembalest has always written, contributing to ARTnews and numerous other publications where her specialty, of course, is art. In September the monthly magazine will attempt a more current time frame, when Cembalest begins covering breaking art news on its website. She’ll do all of this while working with ARTnews‘ approximately 100 freelancers, a populace she can advise from both sides of the editorial coin.
Cembalest shares advice on how to pitch ARTnews and beyond.
Read the magazine
“People have to really understand what the tone of the magazine is. They’ll send in pitches for incredibly long pieces we don’t really run in news or pitch something huge on da Vinci where we already have experts. A lot of people pitch but don’t understand what this magazine is actually doing: journalism about news in the art world.”
Use the internet to come up with more complex and timely pitches
“A monthly magazine is either ahead of time or wraps up an issue and gives larger context: what does it mean? I think young people are very good at accessing information online. They can get a lot of information and begin to shape it into a more original idea. Here’s a book on Caravaggio, there’s a book and film coming out in which the art director was inspired by Caravaggio, there’s also a TV set inspired by Caravaggio—this season Caravagio is a theme.”
Keep your pitch short and pertinent
“The cliche: who, what, where, when and why now? That’s what you need to get in the pitch. I can’t remember the last time I actually took a whole piece someone sent in. The better thing to do is write a short, concise pitch, two to three paragraphs: this is the story, this is why now, who you are and goodbye. If it’s longer I don’t have time to read it. A pitch shouldn’t take eight paragraphs unless it deals with the legal problems of the posthumous sculpture of Dalí.”
New to ARTnews? Try pitching pieces for the front of the book
“The freelancers we don’t know are in the front of the book. The front’s two most stable sections are Art Talk and news. Art Talk is where the art world intersects with other worlds like television, advertising, fashion—it’s a lighter section. In the art news section, we cover artists producing art for the Olympics, art restitution, public sculpture, debates over antiquities, ministries of culture—it’s straight news as applied to the art world. The news section is where the art world connects with finance diplomacy and politics.”
For better reporting, ask ‘Why?’
“In a way, when you’re reporting, you have to be a 4-year-old child. ‘What’s your favorite color?’ Red. Not interesting. ‘Why is it your favorite color?’ It’s like blood. I like blood. ‘Why?’ My father is a butcher or I practice voodoo or I wish I were a surgeon. Then it gets interesting. Basically, keep asking why.”
Who writes the longer pieces for ARTnews?
“For the review section, we have a stable of people we work with. Sometimes they will pitch exhibitions, sometimes we’ll hear of something we want and assign it to them. Features work a little differently. Some of these investigations take six months to a year to come to fruition, and use people we’ve known for a long time. Reviews take a stronger background in arts, features more news journalism.”
Be mindful of the magazine staff’s busy schedule
“Don’t call. It never works. Everyone’s busy. Email is better. Calling is a mistake: you just can’t process a pitch on the phone. Don’t send 20 clips, just two or three. Check up, sure, but not on the phone. Also, don’t pitch to a lot of other people because if I say yes I will be upset if I see it in New York Magazine.
What ARTnews wants
We want writers who understand that we’re communicating to a larger audience inside and outside the art world. We’re certainly talking to peers in the gallery and the journalism world, but also the 70,000 readers who are interested in general culture, who don’t know art jargon.