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Critics, Bloggers, and PR in the 21st Century

Last night, a group of bloggers, producers, artists, choreographers, and critics gathered to discuss a very important question – in a shifting world where the role of print media is shifting, what is the role of the critic (particularly in the world of dance)?

In the arts, press = $. If you get good press, you get more bookings (from presenters), more donations (from patrons and board members), and more people come see you. So the (basic) formula goes. So, Press is important. Duh. But press does not equal critics. And critics do not exist for the sole purpose of generating good press for art. Critics write to generate dialogue. Is this still the case? More importantly, will that be the case 2 years from now? Probably. It should.

But can bloggers actually fulfill the same role that the critics from the New York Times (and other reputable publications) have filled for the past X amount of years? And what were those roles to begin with?

You’re welcome to debate these questions in the comments. But for the purpose of this particular post, I’ll focus on the role of bloggers, and what I see as an evolution of publicity, audience development, and general discourse around art work. To grossly generalize and simplify things, I’ll break it down into 2 camps. Bloggers are bad, and bloggers are good.

In his book, The Cult of the Amateur, Andrew Keen takes the position that bloggers and “the crowd” are diluting our culture. In a NYTimes review of his book, Michiko Kukutani writes

“what the Web 2.0 revolution is really delivering is superficial observations of the world around us rather than deep analysis, shrill opinion rather than considered judgment.” In his view Web 2.0 is changing the cultural landscape and not for the better. By undermining mainstream media and intellectual property rights, he says, it is creating a world in which we will “live to see the bulk of our music coming from amateur garage bands, our movies and television from glorified YouTubes, and our news made up of hyperactive celebrity gossip, served up as mere dressing for advertising.” This is what happens, he suggests, “when ignorance meets egoism meets bad taste meets mob rule.”

Essentially, he takes the position that the wisdom of the crowds essentially creates a popularity contest. Google search results, he claims, are based on popularity and not relevance. On the other hand, Dan Gillmor has a more optimistic and positive view on the publishing revolution. In his book, We the Media, Gilmor writes:

The rise of the citizen-journalist will help us listen. The ability of anyone to make the news will give new voice to people who’ve felt voiceless — and whose words we need to hear. They are showing all of us — citizen, journalist, newsmaker — new ways of talking, of learning xxix

Many writers have lost their jobs as critics for reputable publications. If writers who have been laid were to publish on a blog, would their word be valued any less? If Elizabeth Zimmer published a critique or piece on her own blog, is her writing any less valid? I trust we live in a world where this is not the case. So why are we not seeing more writers who have been laid off blog on their own sites?

We still believe in mainstream media. Mainstream media still serves a purpose.

Obviously, publications like the NYTimes, LATimes, Guardian, and other major print publications are important. This will not change. This will continue to be the case. They have solidified a reputation, and a worldwide readership. And for the most part, their writers are good (except for David Brooks). And their strong suit is syndication. But if an artists’ goal is merely more audience, or more money, good press can only go so far.

But this is not something that’s only happening in the arts. Recently, the Columbia School of Journalism held a discussion entitled “Advanced Facebook for Journalists,” which was a discussion on how Facebook (Facebook) has transformed the entire media industry. [The podcast is included below]

We now live in a world of google adwords, and CPC (cost per click). A world where artists, businesses, advertisers, and PR professionals do not need to reach a global audience – we need to reach a relevant audience. We need to create relevant and targeted messages. If we can reach the right people, why bother working to reach the 1,000 or 1,000,000 people who simply don’t GAS (Give A Sh#t)?

Seriously.

In addition to the blogger v. “professional writer” debate, these questions were also raised:

RULES & STANDARDS

The relationship with press in NYC, although unwritten, dictates that a free ticket will be provided in return for nothing; reviews are not guaranteed. Bloggers & Aggregators, who are far more likely and able to comment on the work AT ANY GIVEN STAGE OF A WORK, are less afforded the same professional courtesies. In any event, no one knows if there are rules or standards or criteria for reviewing work, or for comping.  [A] Can they be known? [B] Should artists craft their own compacts, petition, or artist bill or rights?

LEVEL OF DISCOURSE (“THERE’S A LOT OF BAD WORK OUT THERE”)

The level of discourse in dance criticism, like so much else in our culture, has been reduced to an exercise in judgment only, with minimal description and almost no analysis nor interpretation; slam instead of adjudicate. Many artists, institutions, and other members of the professional dance community are fully aware of the biases and ignorance of major dance critics in terms of knowledge about the business, a particular artist’s aesthetic, body of work, or way of working, even genre, music, and other artistic elements. (1) What actions can we take individually and collectively to improve the tone and the level of the discourse—and (2) what are the consequences of disengaging?

THE DECLINE OF PRINT MEDIA (THE RISE OF SOCIAL MEDIA)

In any event, the age of the dance critic is coming to an end. The print media brands that supply a critic with credentials continue to see their circulations shrink. A simultaneous convergence of artistic focus on PROCESS versus PRODUCT and social media capacities for sharing artistic process and practice are also at odds with a dialectic that focuses solely on one experience of a performative end to the process, which in some cases isn’t even happening anymore. In such an environment, (3) What purpose does dance criticism serve, and (4) can those purposes be achieved through other means? What possible/practical strategies can artists engage in restore some balance to the control of information about their work? [How does career level influence responses?]

EMERGENT NEW PRACTICES (A NEW HOPE)

On October 2, the NAJP will be holding a summit on the future of Arts Journalism, and will feature demonstrations of new models, modes, and tools for engaging a broad base of art consumers in new journalistic practices (including Sophie 2.0, InstantEncore, and Artbabble.) (5) What potentials do these new platforms offer for DANCE and what actions can we take to move away fragmentation into categories like BESSIES, BALLET, BLACK, and FOLK dance?

This debate and discourse will not close any time soon.
It is an important one to have.

But really – come on.
If you’re not including bloggers on your press list or press releases, you’re simply missing an opportunity.

The arts community is charged with the task of not only developing audiences, but developing a community of discourse among bloggers, writers, donors, presenters, and board members. How will we meet it?

Your comments and thoughts are more than welcome – in fact, they are necessary. Please leave your thoughts below in the comments.

UPDATES:
Some have requested I post the list of panelists and their sites. Here they are:
Brian McCormick
Eric Ost, High 5
Sarah A.O. Rosner
Eva Yaa Asantewaa, Infinite Body
David Parker, Bang Group
Laura Colby, Elsie Management
Maura Donohue, In Mixed Company
Doug Fox, Great Dance
Paz Tanjuaquio, Topaz Arts
Marc Kirschner, TenduTV

5 comments

  1. unratednyc115 says:

    I think it's a huge problem when three opinions out weigh that of the masses. Someone actually mentioned last night that it doesn't really matter what thousands of people think. As long as “The New York Times” gives a good write up than everything is okay. This sounds like a bunch of crap. What if “The Times” wrote a bad review about one of my plays? Well, if i thought the criticism was just a full assault on my character without anything relevant to build upon I would de-credit them. Maybe I'd say something like, “I got this kind of review because I refused to pay him for a good one” or “How can he write a review if he wasn't even watching the play? (maybe he was looking at his blackberry throughout the show).” Criticism doesn't have to be malicious or defamatory. It has to be just enough to make the person do it better next time around. Stand Tall! Artists put themselves on the line for our entertainment….we should appreciate the effort and help them improve anyway we can. That is our job as recipients of the art.

  2. alexrodabaugh says:

    Hmmmm… I thought I would comment because I just recently, as of August, created a blog to write about dances that I have seen, as it is aptly named. I'm a senior in college and in no way knowledgable or experienced enough to be a full fledged dance critic and I'm not necessarily trying to be one. My goal, as of now, is to have a discussion about dance works, both in reactions and connections between artists or culture. It is set up almost as a repository or archive of dances that I have seen recently so that when people try to search for specific artists, hopefully they can find an entry, see what I thought about a dance, possibly see other's reactions or discussions and maybe add some themselves. As of right now, no one has added any discussion. One person, who I believe was in a piece I wrote about, posted an entry to their facebook, but whatever discussion came of it, I'll never know. So I don't know how/if my blog fits into this discussion, especially so recent in creation, but I thought I would throw a few pennies into the ring.

  3. Hmmmm… I thought I would comment because I just recently, as of August, created a blog to write about dances that I have seen, as it is aptly named. I'm a senior in college and in no way knowledgable or experienced enough to be a full fledged dance critic and I'm not necessarily trying to be one. My goal, as of now, is to have a discussion about dance works, both in reactions and connections between artists or culture. It is set up almost as a repository or archive of dances that I have seen recently so that when people try to search for specific artists, hopefully they can find an entry, see what I thought about a dance, possibly see other's reactions or discussions and maybe add some themselves. As of right now, no one has added any discussion. One person, who I believe was in a piece I wrote about, posted an entry to their facebook, but whatever discussion came of it, I'll never know. So I don't know how/if my blog fits into this discussion, especially so recent in creation, but I thought I would throw a few pennies into the ring.

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