The Playgoer: Gee, Blogs DO Matter?

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Saturday, February 09, 2008

Gee, Blogs DO Matter? Chicago, at least. According to TOC's Chris Piatt, writing in the local PerformInk:

this [2007] was the year blogs made their presence known in our community, and all but devoured the collective consciousness of Chicago theatre.

In the first two years of Time Out, our weeks revolved around a tough production schedule and keeping up with our competitors’ news cycles. Whom did they feature this week, and did they do it better than we did? What did they think of the new Goodman show, and did they say it more intelligently than we did? In short, the conversation was generally about content, ideas and the currency of those ideas.

These days, though, the thoughts on most arts journalists’ minds aren’t, “What did I think of the play, and what did my colleagues think,” but rather, “What does this blogger think about me?”


The psychological grip these bloggers and their commenting minions hold on journalists can’t be underestimated. If you merely read what was printed about Chicago theatre this year, you only got the text. If you read the blogs, you also got the vital, constantly shifting subtext, postings that drilled their way into journalists’ psyches and leaked into their coverage.

I'm sure there are some in the New York scene that would say similar things. But no doubt the potential for blogs to have more reach and impact is greater in a city not dominated by Broadway and where nonprofit and/or "storefront" theatre comprises most of the advertised theatrical activity.

In New York, it would take a lot more to break through the coordinated noise of major Broadway marketing machines and communications blitzes--still the source of theatre info for the core NY theatre audience (tourists, NY Times readers, retired professionals, intellectuals with disposable income, and even impoverished show queens and obsessed Broadway fans). Which is why I can't resist a brief moment of hope in the chaos Piatt compelling describes in the Chicago theatre media: "In this weak era for journalism, in which publicity and marketing departments are accustomed to driving news coverage, this is tantamount to Dodge City circa 1873."

Yes, a revolution in the "driving of news coverage" is required for the kinds of changes wished for in the theatre on this blog and others. But I agree with Piatt (and more doomsaying blog-skeptics) that it comes with a price, and a challenge to bloggers to take som, some responsibility for promoting a civil kind of coverage that isn't just about getting inside artists and critics' heads.

I would like to think if there is any "psychological grip" of the blogs, it's in the mind of the be-gripped, not the alleged "gripper."

(Hat tip: Ratsass)

1 comment:

Alison Croggon said...

Interesting. In Melbourne the blogs are becoming moving energies in the discourse around theatre: theatre companies are welcoming the discussion which, as one mainstream company here put it in their program, challenges the certainties of print journalism, and certainly does something to extend its limitations.

But what strikes me about the blogs in Melbourne is that the bloggers all go enthusiastically to the theatre, and then enthusiastically discuss it, as a primary aim. That is, the first point of interest is theatre itself, rather than theatre coverage in the media. So, although the blogs are all as various as blogs are anywhere, they seem as a whole to be a little more outward looking. And there are more than a few good writers and intelligent observers doing this in Melbourne, which creates a certain critical mass in the local blogosphere. Which is to say, there's something interesting happening, and people (who are not bloggers) are noticing.

Of course msm critics and journalists get questioned in the mix, but the blogs on the whole are a bit more proactive rather than reactive. It could be because quite a few bloggers are journalists themselves and many of them behave like professional critics, and because the companies are hospitable to electronic media - if asked by a regular blogger, they'll put them on the press list. So we just don't have the same questions about legitimacy that seem to happen over there, certainly not what seems to be a bizarre sensitivity about the interface between blogging and criticism, although of course they've been asked when a blogger gets a bit contentious. Anyway, I'll be watching with interest what evolves here over the next year, which might be a bit of a crunch year, what with blogging no longer being a novelty and all.