Mark Shenton shares his thoughts on the world of arts journalism over on the Stage’s blog today, putting a spotlight on a profession being transformed by amateur critics online and an industry yet to fully accept the opinions of an unpaid commentator.
Of course, no special qualifications are required to be a theatre critic: just the fact that someone employs you to do so makes you one. But in the new online environment, no such appointments are necessary anymore; you can start a blog and call yourself one in the click of a mouse. It’s an increasing challenge amongst theatrical PRs to work out who they should extend the courtesy of free theatre tickets to.
The problem, according to Shenton, is that there are still organisations who put up barriers to those not yet being paid for their work.
The Edinburgh Fringe’s press office runs a media accreditation process to validate the numerous people claiming to be critics, so that there’s at least some kind of filter; but they’ve caused a little bit of a stir this year by denying accreditation to one particular website, The Public Reviews, which as its name suggests, uses members of the public to review shows as opposed to professionals. And being paid for your writing isn’t, of course, a pre-requisite either anymore to call yourself a critic. One of the best reviewing sites out there is theartsdesk.com, set up by a team of established print journalists, and it isn’t paying its contributors at the moment yet, either. (Neither does one of the biggest and most influential news and opinion sites in the US, The Huffington Post). But they’ve all noticed that the market is changing, and are taking a proactive step to be out there with a well-produced site that may, in turn, start making money in due course.