‘Meet The Critics’ Follow-Up

Karen McKevitt, on the Theatre Bay Area Chatterbox blog, and sirtorgo, in the comments on this here blog, have both graciously posted a bit of follow-up to the recent critics panel for those of us (like me and Travis Bedard) who couldn’t make it.

First up, sirtorgo did a brief summary that I’m excerpting in this post because nobody ever reads comments:

I am not so naive to have thought that they did not have pressures from editors and dwindling dwindling space. But I had no idea how bad it was…. Almost all of them repeated a refrain of wanting us to ask our audiences to write the papers they work for and talk about the articles they read — whether good or bad. But I just don’t see that happening….

Robert Hurwitt made this great point about online versus print. He said that people who read the paper can be reading an article about a movie or whatever and stumble on a theatre review and possibly become interested. When it is online, in a blog, whatever — people have to go find the article. In other words, people who are already interested in reading about theatre will be the main consumers. And new audiences will continue to shrink, etc.

Oh boy. I wish I had some great ideas about this. But I don’t. I just know how to make good shows.

Karen picked up on this in her first post, which does a quick summary of what happened that night:

Papers are collapsing, and the arts section isn’t the only section that’s getting smaller. All of the sections are getting smaller, all of the news staffs (business and sports included) are being decimated. It seems completely unrealistic to think that we could ever expand coverage in the short term. Yet, it seems equally impossible to come up with a solution to save papers — how many stories have we seen across the blogosphere from Arts Journal to Slate to the papers themselves, etc., on how to do this?

In a fantastic second post, she then submitted some questions that the panel didn’t have time to get to. There are too many to excerpt, making it essential that you go read the post, but one gets to the “this whole thing seems impossible” theme above. “What can theatre companies do to keep arts coverage available?”

Robert Hurwitt: All I can say is that the more the editors are made aware that the readers want more arts coverage, the more likely they are to put resources there….

Jean Schiffman: I can’t think of anything other than encouraging your audiences to write letters to the press in response to reviews (or lack thereof)….

Chloe Veltman: Encourage foundations about providing philanthropic support to people who write about the arts, e.g., bloggers. For example, artists who serve on the TBA CA$H grant committee might consider providing bloggers and podcasters with support. Some small efforts are being made…e.g., Andy Warhol foundation paying $30,000 to each of a number of bloggers in the visual arts (so far no one to my knowledge has stepped up to the plate for theatre journalists or other disciplines).

The more I stew about this, the more I end up in the whole “I can’t think of anything; I wish I had some great ideas but I don’t” camp. So it’s slightly encouraging that Chloe brings up at least a little something that I had never thought of and that just might be a start.

But overall, it’s still kinda depressing, which might be why people have yet to jump in over at Chatterbox. But I hope people do; Karen said, “There’s certainly a lot here to discuss, and if the conversation really takes off, I’ll be writing new posts on it,” and we definitely need new posts — and new ideas.


6 Replies to “‘Meet The Critics’ Follow-Up”

  1. Thanks for picking up this thread, Tim. I’ll be watching for comments and such, but otherwise I’m rather occupied with starting tech week and opening a show next weekend. But I hope to stay tuned!

  2. I really don’t understand Hurwitt’s point (summed up here):

    “people who read the paper can be reading an article about a movie or whatever and stumble on a theatre review and possibly become interested. When it is online, in a blog, whatever — people have to go find the article.”

    Why? SF Weekly’s web page has hella links all over the place. So does SF Gate. Is it somehow harder to stumble across content online than in a paper? I’d say it’s actually much easier. How many times have you been putzing around on some site, clicked one link, then another and so on until you’ve gone on a little link adventure. I don’t do it all the time, but it does happen pretty frequently.

    Furthermore, I could see a lot more stories (about theater and everything else going on in SF) being put into the All Shook Down blog on the Weekly site. If the critics won’t or can’t come to your show, badger calendar editors pto stick you on the paper’s blog, then badger events blogs like Flavorpill, Laughing Squid and SFist to run something. Annoy Yelp into doing a special Yelpers only evening of your show.

    Ultimately, it’s always on the company to get new people out — not the papers. And in this day with Facebook etc, all I need to promote my show/event is something to link to. I can either create that link on my own (throwing a promo video up on YouTube) or someone else can write up the show, talk about it, barely even mention it and I can link to that.

    The thing that we’ve learned is that it really doesn’t matter what you’re linking to, so long as you’ve got something to link to. And if what you’re linking too is super effing cool (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_81zYyu7hnI) then peeps who watch it will forward that around to their friends or post it on Facebook and random eyeballs will be all over it.

  3. Hey Rob,

    I actually don’t think it’s easier. Pretend you aren’t a theatergoer for a second and go to SF Weekly’s site. Go. Right now.

    Then tell me how long you think it will take you to find or want to find an article on theatre.

    I think the average internet user is easily distracted by the bright and shiny- And then immediately disgusted by the amount of inane bullshit they (we) are consuming. Yet we go on. It’s the web surfer’s dilemma. We need something to grab our attention, but there is just SO MUCH stuff.

    When you buy a paper and flip to the arts section, your experience is completely different. I think his point is excellent in it’s understanding of the difference in these experiences. Think about it, you are reading a paper: You are already there- Looking at something interesting in the arts section- And it’s literally the simple motion of turning a PHYSICAL page that could open you up to something else that interests you.

    You are completely right that it is the Company’s responsibility to get their audiences out. But papers due have a very palpable effect and that is a good thing that I think is slipping away.

    Let’s get a beer and talk about it though! Shit!


  4. I also thought he had a good point. I used to subscribe to the Sunday New York Times, and I would sit on my couch, drinking coffee, flipping pages, and stumble across articles that would catch my attention. Sometimes I would even open the Style section based on (a) it being right there, (b) not wanting to get off the couch, and (c) it having an interesting photo or headline or something to catch my eye.

    Now, I open the New York Times website, go directly to either the Magazine, Opinion, or Arts sections, skim the headlines, and only click on the headlines that interest me. Not only do I never, ever see any articles in the Style section, but I don’t even read all the Magazine articles; only the ones that grab my attention in the 30 seconds I spend skimming down the page.

    Point is, yes, as a reader, you might find some other random thing to click on as you surf the web. But as a marketer, if you want someone who may not be seeking out your theater company to somehow stumble upon an article about you, you just might have a better chance that they’ll stumble upon it while physically flipping through the newspaper than that they’ll click on a link while they’re skimming a website full of links.

    Although, you’re kind of talking more about Facebook links and YouTube videos and things being forwarded, and those are definitely more apt to be looked at than a link down at the bottom of SFGate — but I’ll bet an awful lot of those are still being forwarded to people with an interest in theater, and I think Hurwitt was talking more about uninterested strangers.

    Regardless, I agree with much of what’s written above, including getting a beer.

    (Notice how smoothly I slid into T’s “let’s” right there? Tricky.)

  5. wow – I had this whole long fucking thing written out and just went, “Screw it” and hit delete. So now it’s jsut a sorta long thing written out.

    I will say that I don’t really see how turning a page and clicking a link are that different. They are different actions accomplishing the same thing — browsing. I think what’s actually different is the setting/context in which people are clicking or page turning — page turning usually happens leisurely on the couch while clicking usually happens discreetly at the office. My guess is that as papers recede from our lives and the Intertubes become more entrenched, you will absolutely have more people browsing websites in a leisurely context.

    I’ll also put out there that Facebook might just be the new national paper. I get messages from the President on there and videos of old war vets talking passionately about their gay son and heartwarming stories about kittens. I also find out when my ex-girlfriends get pregnant or married — occasionally it’s both! Facebook is really very super.

    In fact, I even replied to the Zombie Town after party event invite I got on Facebook, and while I can’t make that (closing SHIT Show that night) I would still love to grab a beer or 70 at Lipo some night.

    (transition not nearly as smooth as Tim’s)

  6. That’s exactly it: the context. I’d even go so far as to say it’s the physical position of your body. Reading a paper, you lean back, lay down, curl up, and so your mind is more open to something new. (I should be saying “I” instead of “you.”) On a computer, I’m usually skimming, hurrying, leaning forward, not wanting to linger or look at something too random — on a newspaper website, I mean. I’m more willing to click random links on Facebook, twitter, boing boing, all that. But I’m not “flipping through” the New York Times or Chronicle online. Maybe it’s just me. And Hurwitt.

    However!!! I freaking love this: “Facebook might just be the new national paper.” Absolutely and I never thought of it that way and my god, that’s completely true. And I do think it’s where theater companies are getting the most traffic from. As well as almost anybody else.

    Somebody plan that beer night.

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