Inside Track: all the blogosphere's a stage

Arts journalists are waking up to new ways of writing and acknowledging the impact of a greater ‘democracy’of published opinions.

While some sites are so poor ‘they bring nothing to the discussion”, overall, blogging is bringing a ‘space for new writers”, and adding a more ‘personal dynamic”, says Guardian Unlimited arts editor Andrew Dickson. And he adds: ‘It’s a wonderful thing.”

Shakespeare blogger Peter Kirwan, from Warwick University, says reviewers can’t fail to feel a knock-on effect.

‘Professional critics often get too bound up in their own cleverness to be of use in a theatre review,’he says. ‘Take the reviews of Gregory Doran’s 2007 Coriolanus. Many of the broadsheet critics spent more than half of the review talking about the closure of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, the history of the theatre, and barely gave the play they were reviewing a mention.

‘Bloggers don’t have anyone to please apart from themselves. My approach is to simply say what I thought about the production. It’s surprising how many professional critics fail to do this.”

And while he acknowledges that blogs can be ‘even more self-indulgent”, Kirwan says that most theatre bloggers are well-informed, skilled writers.

So what, apart from self-indulgence, are the main pitfalls of this type of blogging?

Kirwan says: ‘A relative lack of resources compared to professional critics can lead to basic factual errors, and it’s been commented on by many anti-bloggers that at least professionals manage to spell-check their own work.

‘From an artistic point of view, the biggest problem can be the immediacy of the response. The temptation to put something up as soon as you get home from the theatre is great, but 24 hours later you can recant your opinions.”

Dickson says that professional critics have followed the lead of blogging, injecting more personality into pieces online, rather than simply writing to house style.

And he says that established critics have nothing to fear – there’ll always be room for opinions based on years of experience. ‘The world is changing and we have to acknowledge that. It’s terribly exciting,’Dickson says.

Theatre journalist and blogger Natasha Tripney says: ‘I enjoy the freedom to write what I want as I want. I keep notes on the shows I see and the blog is just an extension of that tendency – to write, to record.

‘I don’t think established journalists fear blogging. Some may embrace it with more enthusiasm than others – and there is still a need felt by many to draw a line between print and online journalism. But these should be complementary, not competing media.”

Kirwan adds: ‘Established theatre reviewers are read by thousands who know and respect their views. People want reviewers they can trust, and bloggers working outside of professional journalism tend to build up something more akin to a ‘cult’ following.

‘People will always go to the arts journalist they feel matches their feelings the most closely to get the ‘definitive’ review, and browse through blogs to assess the range of responses.

‘Although bloggers and professional critics are in theory doing the same thing, they are actually fulfilling two very different and equally important roles.’

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