Time to hug a blogger?

Time to hug a blogger?

It has been an interesting couple of weeks for theatre bloggers. A few months ago, spurred on by some healthy debate about regional arts coverage, the Guardian Stage blog started an equally vigorous discussion on the rise of regional theatre bloggers. In a shameless piece of name dropping, I am more than happy to let slip that my modest blog was included in this piece but, aside from welcome publicity, it did stir up some thoughts about how bloggers fit into the arts publicity machine in this digital age.

The consensus then was that this is a growing trend that benefits the wider arts world.

The same publication sparked renewed debate a couple of weeks ago with a blog entitled ‘can you trust unpaid theatre critics’ The author’s crux was who regulates bloggers or other unpaid critics and how to ensure they are qualified.

Now I happily put my qualifications on my blog but I raised the point that paid does not necessarily equate to qualified. In these times of drastically reduced newsrooms, just because a journalist is paid does not mean that they have any background in arts coverage. They may be covering a production between articles on football and the local flower show. I, along with many others, questioned what actually qualifies a critic? I don’t claim to write perfect prose and I’m sure many can point out spelling and grammatical errors. What I do offer, along with my fellow bloggers, is a passion for the arts and a desire to promote a huge spectrum of work.

Further fuel was added to the fire on Friday with the publication of the Royal Opera House’s heavy-handed approach to a blogger over the use of production shots. Now I’m not going to venture into the legalities of either sides’ actions but the threatening, and badly spelled, approach by the legal team at Covent Garden caused a very public backlash against the organisation. Within the space of a couple of hours, the blogging community had spread details of the behaviour of the ROH forcing a public apology from their Head of Corporate Communications.

What these debates all have in common is that, for some areas of the arts. it’s a case of playing catch up with the growing social media arena. Today Corinne Furness has written an eloquent blog on the subject, echoing many of the points made here. I join Corinne’s call for two-way dialogue between arts organisations and bloggers. We are all working to the same aim, to highlight and promote our vital and vibrant arts scene. There are tough times ahead with the oncoming battle for arts funding and key to this battle will be educating the wider public on the huge amount of work out there.

Perhaps it’s time for venues, producers, artists, traditional media and the blogging world to work together to show what is at risk should arts funding be drastically cut. Rather than fighting each other, let’s embrace the digital age and encourage more people to join the blog revolution and share what they like and dislike about the arts – there’s no more valuable customer insight into what audiences want than to listen to them.

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