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Do Critics Matter?

June 5, 2009

I think so, but in a new way.

With all that talk about the steady decline of newspapers, I thought I would take a moment to look at it from another angle. So far I have been focusing on the effects of this decline purely from an advertising standpoint. It is clear this is a huge factor facing theaters these days, but what about the more subtle effect of the loss of critics?

If we look at the post  As Newspapers Downsize, Cities Lose Arts Critics by Laura Sydell we start to get an idea that this may have a big effect on organizations;

“In the past, the place to find out what was happening in the clubs and theaters of your city was the local paper. But as cash-strapped newspapers lay off their local arts critics, the future of arts criticism is up in the air. Although some people love to hate critics, Doug McClennan, the director of the National Arts Journalism Program, says that critics fulfill an important role in helping communities understand the arts and their role in society. He warns that culture doesn’t happen in isolation — and that we need full-time professional critics devoted to getting to know those communities.”

It is true that the importance of the traditional arts critic is diminishing just like the newspaper is. A great review in the Sunday paper does not ensure ticket sales like it once did. There is however, a shift to the internet happening. The professional critic is finding a new home with a blog. There is also a new breed of critic developing with this new technological age and in some ways, this shift is a good one, and is very democratic. These amateur critics are becoming just as important for shows as the professionals. The challenge for theaters now is to find out how to engage with these new citizen critics, and still connect with patrons. This is in some ways a more difficult task because the network in not centralized anymore.

Theaters must start to take bloggers serously, and start to build relationships once only cultived with professional critics. With the changes in print media this will be increasing important for sucess in the years to come.

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