May 17, 2006
Last callby About Last Night
I’m off to a dinner and won’t be back until late, so I thought I’d take my leave of the discussion with a few summary observations.
I’ve been following what other bloggers have been writing about “Critical Edge.” Some find us “windy” and “ivory-towerish,” others compelling and challenging. (Go here to read some of their remarks.) Add in the reader comments posted directly on this page and you can see that a whole lot of people have had a whole lot to say about what we’ve been saying. Needless to say, all these folks are entitled to their opinions—but the fact that I’ve been able to keep up with them in something close to real time is almost as interesting as the opinions themselves.
Whether or not we meant to do so, the participants in “Critical Edge” have just given a striking demonstration of one of the most significant aspects of Web-based information technology, which is the way in which it facilitates direct and immediate interaction between writers and readers. Indeed, the distinction between “writers” and “readers” is growing increasingly artificial: those of you who have contributed to this electronic conversation by posting your comments are no less involved in it than those of us whom Doug McLennan initially asked to take part.
It may well be that blogs as we now know them will no longer exist five years from now, or will have evolved beyond easy recognition. What’s definitely here to stay is the democratization of the cultural conversation brought about by the rise of the new media. It remains to be seen how critics will shape that ongoing process—though I can already tell you that those who decline to participate in it will have no effect on it. For my part, I’m delighted to have gotten in on the ground floor of what I believe to be a revolution in journalism. My thanks to Doug for opening the door.
See you around—and if you haven’t done so already, stop by my blog!
Posted by tteachout at May 17, 2006 1:51 PM
And thank you, Terry, for the extraordinary work you've done evangelizing for this new, uneasy marriage of the new media and the old.
Although I bowed out early after the first couple of days (having unutterably littered the comments section with my own responses), I've been following along, sometimes flattered, sometimes feeling condescended-to, sometimes not sure what to think. But two points occur to me.
First, this "democratization" of cultural discourse ("discourse" a perfectly decent word, even if some of my fellow bloggers find it hard to spit out) is evidently both a local and an international phenomenon. Of course both local bloggers and print arts journalists can serve their own communities most effectively (as local arts sections must serve first and foremost their local readership), but the local angle threatens to become provincial without the additional material that can be provided by these self-appointed blogging critics around the world. Dismissals of the blogosphere based on a few (all right, many) poorly edited, spelled and conceived blogs is similar to dismissing all print journalism based on the quality of the "Pennysaver" newspaper at the local market.
Second, I wish we could reconceive this professional-vs.-amateur distinction; the professional the paid print critic, the amateur the unpaid blogger, however enthusiastic and reliable. I've made the decision to devote my life to the art I've chosen; the theater is my profession, whether the checks come my way or not. The times when I feel the most condescension are when I note the attempt to characterize me and the best of my fellow bloggers as enthusiastic amateurs (even in the best sense of that word). I confess to you, I think we are more than that. We bring passion, yes, but we also bring the craft and seriousness of purpose that the paid print professional is expected to bring to his or her work. Sometimes, I suspect, we may bring even more craft and seriousness of purpose, paid or not.
Some of us consider our efforts an expression of our vocation, not our avocation. So we will continue to be out here, hired for the local paper or not, kicking against the pricks. The number of which, it is my profound hope, will lessen as this shakeout of cultural reportage continues.
Posted by: George Hunka at May 17, 2006 3:28 PM
Well, George, remember that "amateur" derives from "to love". It's not necessarily a dishonourable tag. The professional/amateur tag is a rather meaningless dichotomy when you think of the growing number of "professional" critics who have blogs, or, as has been pointed out here more than once, how many blogs have arisen from the desire for more serious discourse than can be found in the mainstream media.
Reading this forum, I've been interested to see that the question of renumeration for arts professionals is as big a question in the US as here (maybe bigger - we do at least have state funding for the arts, though no tradition of philanthropic support). I like to be paid, for sure; I much prefer it to not being paid. But up to a point, Lord Copper: if, as Harold Pinter says, nobody employs me, nobody can sack me either. Like Terry, I value that independence, even if at times it is dearly bought. There are other kinds of renumeration besides money, and they are not, as some would have it, all to do with self-promotion. I feel a real commitment to the theatre community of which I am a part, and know the responses I can provide are valued in a context where many people feel their work is put out into a discursive vacuum; that is why I persist with my blog, which takes a considerable amount of work and time, although I have many other things to do, and could promote myself, if I wished to, much more time-efficiently in other ways. I'm sure every blogger has different motivations and different contexts, and vanity plays, in the blogs I read, as much or as little as in any other medium.
The equivalence of money with credibility is something that blogging (and, as it happens, art) radically challenges. It's one of the reasons I like blogs; if they have credibility, they have to earn it. But the fears that free "product" means less for arts journalists in an already shrinking market, that bloggers will "undercut" paid journalists and result in less all around, seem to me to emerge from a false economy. I think it just as likely that more would mean more. If technologies like blogs revitalise some aspects of arts commentary, that can only be good for everyone in the industry.
Posted by: Alison Croggon at May 18, 2006 1:47 AM
Precisely: That equivalence is being radically called into question; and I note that the professional/amateur definition does seem to be far more important to those who are "professionals" in the industry sense (that is, they're paid for what they write, unlike the rest of us, and believe that this lends their views validity).
And I'm sure many of these "professionals" are "amateurs" as well in that original sense, Alison. Which suggests that it's time to retire the dichotomy entirely.
Posted by: George Hunka at May 18, 2006 7:11 AM
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