Monday 16 April 2012

Don't blame the bloggers

“One of the things that we as critics are involved in, which bloggers and internet writers are not, particularly bloggers, is our relationship to our industry.  A piece I read in The Observer... said ‘Culture needs gamekeepers to protect it from the hoi polloi.’”

This statement is from Hilary Finch’s Radio 3 Sunday Feature To Listen Well (UK users can listen again for one week).  Finch is a music critic for The Times and her often fascinating programme examined the role and worth of music criticism, with interjections from other newspaper critics.  A lot of what Finch and her guests had to say about the business rang true with my experiences, but the programme ended up giving an airing to a lot of the usual journo snobberies about bloggers and online reviewers, without any balancing voices from the so called “new media”.  Of course, it’s in the interests of the print media types to talk themselves up at the expense of the “competition”, but the truth is that there are no easy distinctions between pros and ams anymore.  Just about all of the newspapers (The Times being the exception) make their reviews available freely online and open to (blog-style) comments.  Bloggers (such as On an Overgrown Path and Classical Iconoclast) often cover the sort of subjects that the newspapers can barely find space for these days.  And you can read Finch's comment about involvement in the industry as you like.

So what do they mean by “bloggers”, anyway? The distinction falls apart further when one looks at the breadth of people out there, happily blogging away.  We have in our numbers: newspaper critics; former record industry people; music academics; musicians; young writers, trying to get a foot hold in an industry that doesn’t want to pay anymore.  The simple truth is that there are good critics; there are bad critics.  There are good bloggers; there are bad bloggers.  They all stand and fall by the quality of what they do, so let’s judge them on those grounds, and not by where their writing appears.      


Doundou Tchil said...

Hi Andrew,

You can tell when the newspapers are running scared, when they hide behind their status rather than the quality of their work. There is no distinction between newspapers and bloggers, only good writers and bad. Some of the stuff is good, but much is plain embarrassingly bad. Exactly the same with blogs. Any site that prides itself on using "journalists" not bloggers is breaching the Trades Description Act.

Many people are journalists and bloggers at the same time. Sadly, readers are fooled by status and think that a writer backed by commercial clout must somehow be valid. Not true ! What counts is genuine knowledge, quality and analytical skils. And originality. Though these days I think the market for superficial is taking over.

Real journalists know they can compete on their own terms. It's the bluffers who can't understand why some bloggers can beat them at their own game. Good bloggers can out google the press anytime, which is why the press leans on google to skew their algorithm their way.

David Allen said...

The snobbery is dully predictable. I remember sitting next to a 'proper' critic (not one I'd heard of) at a concert in San Francisco, who was leafing through his press pack whilst I scribbled some notes. "Eugh," he sighed to his companion, "they've just given me notes from bloggers!" Turning to me later, he asked why I was taking notes, and his face when I explained was priceless!

It's not as if we're not connected to the industry, either as players or listeners or on the simple level of being in contact with press people. On that latter level, it's remarkable how varied the response to internet writers can be from institution to institution, from a band like the Boston Symphony or the AAM who go out of their way to help as many people write about their music as possible, to the Met who simply shut up shop.

But I would argue that not being 'gatekeepers' in the same way as the professional critics might give us a little more freedom to write what we think – or at a length we think appropriate, as Doundou, Boulezian and others do so well.

Andrew Morris said...

Thanks for the comment, Doundou. It all seems especially rich when you consider how much arts coverage in the papers is thinly veiled PR puffery. But here I'm crossing into Overgrown Path territory!

Andrew Morris said...

I agree: there is more freedom. Whether we all use it to the max remains to be seen, but I think the potential is a cause for celebration and not concern.

I've actually found the few "proper" critics I've spoken to to be be reasonably friendly, but I've usually done so with my Classical Source hat on, which I think might put me a little further up the food chain than if I'd uttered the dreaded "B" word!