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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.
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