It's All about the Blogging
Today I was invited to be the--let me get this right--Guest Critic at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II Festival in January of '09. (The invitation was accepted.) Region II includes college productions and aspiring critics from schools in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Washington, D.C. I mention this not because I love blowing my own horn (though I do), and not to convince anyone (okay, maybe myself) of my own legitimacy as a critic, but because of the reason I was chosen.
It's almost all about the blogging.
Each year, the festival picks a handful of students who express interest in reviewing theater, and after an intensive several days of playgoing and review-writing, submit a final critique to be judged by the guest critic (Me!). The winner attends the Kennedy Center's big national event, and hopefully, a new batch of arts writers is hooked.
However, with the future of print media a bit less rosy these days, the festival sought me out precisely because I work both online and on paper. Of course, "working" doesn't necessarily equal "getting paid." Though print, via the Philadelphia Inquirer, generously supplies my paycheck and ample opportunity to practice my favorite sport--reviewing theater--blogging supplies me with hope for the future.
Perhaps in that spirit, the guest critic spot is an unpaid honor (hey, at least they cover expenses), but one that may someday pay off in employment offers. In that future--and I'm guessing it will be the near future, if gas prices continue their heavenward trajectory, making home delivery a losing proposition--most media will go wholly online. It's anyone's guess whether information will arrive in specialized chunks through individual feeds, if there will still be room for centralized content providers (i.e., online versions of old-fashioned news organizations), if the most successful efforts will come from devoted individuals toiling away at home on their own sites, or some combination of the above. All I know for sure is willful ignorance of online journalism's free-form possibilities is anything but bliss, unless your version of bliss is monastic poverty and a Sysiphean sense of accomplishment.
You don't hear Perez Hilton complaining about the decline in Page Six readership. In fact, he's even starting to encroach on my territory by publicizing the recent Tricia Walsh-Smith YouTube freakshow and the Cubby Bernstein webisodes. Soon, he'll even be the subject of an off-Broadway musical. As a wise person once said, don't hate the player, hate the game.
Obviously, the guy's not doing extended features or reviews, or, well, anything resembling journalism, but he's sure making a living, which is, unfortunately, more than many of my brilliant, worthy, formerly full-time colleagues can say for themselves. All those readers who used to open their newspapers every morning over breakfast and coffee, are now carrying that coffee to their computers, logging on and looking for the same in-depth information. It's up to us as journalists to keep providing it or other, savvier, and perhaps lesser voices will be happy to fill in the gap.
Initiate podcasts, critics' roundtables, and multimedia stories at your paper. If your paper won't do it, get together with other critics and do it on your own, on a blog (hmmm... good idea...). It's not all that complicated and well worth the investment. The goal is to keep critiquing Willy Loman, not become him.