On the value of Bloggers

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It seems these days print critics are all about slamming the bloggers. Two years ago, the questions was merely “are we going to replace print media” (per Jay Rayner); nowadays it’s shocking rudeness, from being called, basically, scroungers looking to get a few free show tickets (see Mark Shenton) to sad people with dull lives and reduced capacity for enjoyment (Tim Hayward) to, most insultingly, untrustworthy clowns with no integrity (Bella Todd in a moment of gutter wallowing).

As someone who’s been happily blogging away about all and sundry for about a decade (my first post was a restaurant review), I’m surprised at the rise of vitriol from the tiny cadre of paid authors. They’re already in a position of privilege, given that they pay nothing for the things they review and have no pesky day job getting in the way of their craft; they have editors and (sometimes) fact checkers helping them look their best; while we’re busily making our ticket budget balance with our gas and electric bill, they saunter into a show on opening night – when everything is supposed to be at its very best – knowing they’ve got a free ticket waiting for them in a special envelope. For them to be snide to us seems ridiculous given that they have so many advantages where we only have devotion.

So, really, why the bad attitude about hobbyists? I think the tide has turned, in part, out of a sense of fear. Bella Todd said we can’t be trusted because we don’t have a name publication behind us; but, increasingly, the total number of writers that do is on the wane. This flood of vanished paid positions is not the fault of bloggers, but rather due to the rise of the internet and instant access to free information online. Print writers’ snippy, superiority-stained remarks seem to come in part from a fear of bloggers; but the decimation of reviewerships is all about upheavals in the print industry. I want to keep reading writers that have been in the trenches for decades, but my ceasing to write is not going to keep them employed.

However, I think the question that ought to be asked is why are so many people coming to blogs for reviews? We do have the advantage of being fast; we’re not limited by “don’t publish until opening” rules, and our format lets us get reviews out there the night we see a show (provided we’re willing to forgo some sleep). I argue, however, our real value is because we are, inherently, trustworthy. Despite Todd’s claims, the fact is I earn my trust, and my reputation, one reader at a time, and the sign of their trust is that they return to read me again. Because we aren’t obliged to keep our “nice” relationships with the theaters, we are far freer to say what we think than print reviewers are – God knows theatrical staff and even art principles feel no reason to refrain from being rude to us, since we’re merely “members of the public ” – and our descriptions of our painful (sometimes literally) experiences much more closely represent that of a normal person going to a show (provided that the “normal person” is just a wee bit fanatical about the medium – two shows a week is not normal by almost any standard, and I usually see three).

I think this focus on the reality of regular people’s experience of shows (or movies, or meals) is why people look for bloggers’ reviews in the first place, because often we are the only ones who feel free to speak the truth without fear of offense. After all, since (for most of us) every show we see is paid for out of our meager pockets, theatrical producers have already got what they really want out of us – our cold, hard cash. And it is paying that cash, and then having to debate the value we’ve received in exchange for our money earned at our frequently dull (or even soul-crushing) day jobs, that takes away those rose-colored glasses too many paid reviewers see weak shows through. We aren’t professionals, but why do people turn to us when there are other people out there with better-expressed views? It really comes down to integrity. I write for love, and to try to learn to become a better writer by “doing” my craft – not because I had a deadline to meet to fill column inches; if you read me, you do so most likely because you want to figure out if you should see a show – and you trust what I have to say. Thank you for this trust; I hope I deserve it, and that you return to read me again; and that, if we disagree, we can discuss it like people who both understand that different viewpoints do not mean that there is a right and a wrong, but that there are merely two different experiences that we can both learn from by sharing our opinions. And that’s one of the things I love the most about theater; it gives me so much to talk about and so many people to discuss with and learn from.

As a final note, without the benefit of an editor to review our work, errors are far more likely to slip into our writings. Proper netiquette teaches the best way to handle these slips is to send a private email to the author enabling to correct their mistake “behind the scenes” rather than posting something publicly. They will appreciate the tact and the “editor” will earn a reputation for being sharp-eyed rather than pedantic. I’m not naming names here, but the guilty party ought to see the error of their ways and amend and apologise for using such a broad platform to mock a rather inoffensive party – to fire at a blogger with an elephant gun makes the shooter seem insecure and petty and does affect your online reputation.

(Another nice discussion of this can be found on Laura Tosney’s blog – have a look!)

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3 Responses to “On the value of Bloggers”

  1. Tubz Says:

    don’t hate the player – hate the game. there just player hatin’.

  2. John Stevenson Says:

    I love this post. Absolutely brilliant. I think another great advantage of being a blogger is that we can say what we think, there is no editor to correct us or “correct” us if you get my drift. – maybe that’s why we’re a trusted source for a good review.

    First post I’ve read of yours and I love it, I’ll certainly be reading more often.

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