Michael Kaiser wants those crazy kids to turn their loud rock ‘n roll music down! You with your “chat rooms” and your hippy hippy shake shake and your mobile telephones.
He wrote a blog post on the Huffington Post about how social media and bloggers are ruining arts criticism. Before we go on, kindly take a moment to absorb the irony of someone writing for the Huffington Post commenting on the demise of traditional media outlets.
I’ve covered these topics before, and I don’t want to be That Blogger who just writes the same post over and over. So, read these if you like:
I would like an answer from Michael Kaiser on the “what are critics actually for” question. He seems to be arguing for the answer to be “ticket sales” and “posterity” at the same time.
If criticism is about helping audiences decide what to see, we should acknowledge some people don’t want to get recommendations for their precious discretionary time and money from experts at all. All forms of criticism and commentary are important, and the idea of expertise is not limited to one. I don’t want the New York Times to go away and I don’t want OperaChic to go away. It’s almost too obvious to type out, but a blogger not being vetted or paid doesn’t mean that they’re not an expert. Likewise, because a newspaper staff writer IS vetted doesn’t mean that they are. Both extremes can be good writing, both extremes can be bad writing, as can everything in between.
If press should exist to serve the marketing needs of performers and presenters, shouldn’t Kaiser be encouraging as much online discussion as possible? This is not a zero-sum game: the existence of writers without established publications and editors does not mean those with cannot exist.
Kaiser speaks of bloggers as “competition” for journalists. Is competition not how we all get better at our jobs? I met with Broadway director Jerry Zaks when I graduated from college, and asked him what I should do working in a marketing department if I actually wanted to be a musical theater director. He said, “Always do good work, and let your work speak for itself.” If a writer is good, he or she will rise to the top despite the outlet. If people are preferring to get their news from bloggers and that is decreasing ad revenue, the newspapers should hire those people. You know, like the New York Times does, all the time. (See Nate Silver and Brian Stelter.)
Sorting out whether or not to give bloggers press seats is not rocket science. Simply ask bloggers for their readership numbers, read samples of their writing, and make an informed decision about whether you’d like to give them comp tickets in exchange for their commentary on what you’re presenting. If the ensuing review is badly written or ill-informed, do not invite them back, or discuss this with them. If they can’t provide numbers or samples, you have your answer.
Kaiser writes that arts coverage “has been deemed an unnecessary expense” by many news media outlets. The arts have also been deemed an unnecessary expense for public school systems in this country. I wish there were artists who would volunteer their time and passion and teach at schools for free without being hired by the school. Wouldn’t that be swell. Oh wait, that’s exactly what happens, and they’re universally praised for it.
Mostly, I just feel bad for the Kennedy Center press folks. Were they even consulted before he posted this? Because the big boss just undercut the future of their department.