In Microtones, our newsletter-only column.
Madison’s small and strangely overcrowded media scene lost a good egg this week when the Madison film website LakeFrontRow announced that it was shutting down. LakeFrontRow and editor/founder David Klein have often felt like kindred spirits for us in the time since Tone Madison began. David was an upstart doing local arts journalism for the right reasons, and I can relate to why he decided to hang things up—the stress of keeping a publication going at all, and the struggle to maintain the level of quality you want.
David had his own unique sense of priorities in his coverage—he didn’t feel obligated to cover the same ground as other publications, and that freed him up to shine a light where no one was looking. No other outlet shared LakeFrontRow‘s dedication to covering the film community in Madison and Wisconsin. The site’s interviews with independent filmmakers and screening curators, and its deep focus on the “Wisconsin’s Own” selections at the annual Wisconsin Film Festival, were perhaps the core of its value. LakeFrontRow also collaborated with the Madison Public Library on a screening and discussion series featuring Wisconsin filmmakers. The last one, just a few weeks ago, was a screening of Forward: Anger Into Action, a documentary about racial disparities in Madison. Other outlets in town, including The Capital Times and Madison Film Forum, do valuable work covering film, but LakeFrontRow mostly had that focus all to itself.
LakeFrontRow also didn’t shy away from the weird minutiae of being a filmgoer in Wisconsin. In 2014, David asked why the since-renamed Sundance Cinemas Madison had such an inept social-media presence (may the phrase “Hello, Twitter World!” ring out forever in our hearts). He also pointed out the need for deeper discussions around what it would take for Wisconsin filmmakers to truly feel supported and connect with state audiences. The site’s work enabled us to have better conversations in our own coverage, and it was through LakeFrontRow that I got connected with Grant Phipps, who now also contributes his dogged, context-rich film and music writing to Tone Madison.
For such an educated, engaged city, Madison sure is good at producing innocuous lifestyle journalism. Our city currently has a wealth of great reporters covering hard news and politics, but on the arts and culture beats, it’s incredibly hard to find a sense of context and institutional memory. LakeFrontRow wasn’t solving that problem single-handedly, of course, but certainly contributed its part, and quite admirably for a site with slim resources. The coverage was soulful, earnest, and critical, and wasn’t tainted by cozy, mercenary relationships in the entertainment world. David wasn’t motivated by perks or social status or the need to ingratiate himself with people he covered. LakeFrontRow drew on the fundamental need to ask questions—ones that I hope we’ll keep asking in the future.