Commentary: Is "open journalism" the way forward for arts organizations?

Paula Rabbitt, Head of Press for West Yorkshire Playhouse, The Guardian, 10/26/12

As an arts [organization's press representative], you need to know what is current, what journalists are writing about, what topic of conversation keeps appearing. A hot topic, particularly among freelance arts journalists at the moment seems to be open journalism, the development of a much longer dialogue with artists and audiences than the traditional arts model of preview and press night. During the spring, Guardian journalist Maddy Costa visited the Playhouse to see Chris Goode and Company's production of Nine. She worked closely with the company and got involved in their process, watching from the inside out but still there to critique and evaluate what she was seeing. In the summer she published a fascinating blog about her experience. This was a new way of working with journalists, inviting them to look at a production in 360 degrees. So when the Guardian approached us to become involved in a mini-site dedicated to our production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof -- we were already familiar with the idea. The Guardian's proposal was to create an open forum, led by its professional writers, in which anyone could have their say about any aspect of WYP's work with particular focus on Cat. This was a little terrifying; we were being asked to lay ourselves wide open to scrutiny, not only from professional arts journalists but also from our peers and our audiences. It left nowhere to hide, even if we wanted to. The resulting coverage has been immense -- four Guardian journalists have seen this show. They have scrutinised backstage work, the music, handed out top tips on how to write blogs and reviews, provided the director with a right to reply, given talks to our youth theatre and over 55s group. They have also held open forum discussions, tweet nights, live web chats and spoken directly to our local bloggers encouraging them to have their say. In short, they have opened out their journalism to include the thoughts and opinions of those on the front line -- our audiences. Do I think that open journalism is the way forward? I really do. It augments professional journalism but does not replace it. The internet and social media has opened up comment in a way that we have never seen before and that should be encouraged because I want to know what our public think. It has been a learning curve for us, a pioneering step and we haven't got everything right but I'd love to do it again.


Commentary: The future of arts marketing is journalism

Adam Thurman, Mission Paradox blog, 11/14/12

We have become very good at marketing.  We have a grasp on social media, some more than others.  We know how to buy ads.  We know how to maintain websites.  We know how to do promotion via email. In fact, our arts marketing has become so good that it's damn invisible. To go from invisible to visible we have to go to the future. The future of marketing is storytelling. Wait.  Did you just roll your eyes? I know you've heard that marketing-is-storytelling stuff before.  Now every product you see is inviting you to "join our journey" and "hear our story".  That's because we are still learning the difference between storytelling and spin. "Let me tell you a story." Those are powerful words because they make you want to know what happens next.  If you already think you know what's going to happen next, you aren't interested in the story. So if your story is about how great every show is, how wonderful all your artists are and how beautiful life in the arts is . . . that's not a story.  That's spin. For a story to work, the storyteller has to have some credibility.  I think the way to get that credible space is by adding a journalistic element to your marketing. As an example, let's look at what Coca Cola has planned.  Check out this article in the NY Times.  They are revamping their web site and restructuring their digital marketing team to look "more like the editorial team at a long lead magazine".  They have even expressed a willingness to publish content which may not look upon the brand favorably, i.e. an article by NYC Mayor Bloomberg talking about his size ban on cola. Now maybe this will not all pan out.  Maybe they will not gain the credibility they need to pull this off, but we should all look carefully at what they are saying.  Coke is great at marketing.  And they are saying it isn't enough. They need journalism, storytelling and credibility to sell sugar water. Maybe we need more of it in the arts.


Commentary: What are professional reviews for?

Seth Godin on his blog, 11/18/12

I know what they used to be for. A decade ago, there really was no way to tell if a movie, a book or a play was worth your time before you paid up. A professional review could be a valuable signal, a way to save people time and money. Along the way, professional reviewers also decided that they could alter the culture by speaking up. Since creators of culture are often sensitive to what the critics have to say, establishing critical baselines (particularly when you are a powerful arbiter of what sells and what doesn't) became a real function of the critic. Today, of course, there's no shortage of cultural feedback. If I want to know what people thought of a bit of culture, it's only a click away. In fact, for the consumer who doesn't want to know (spoiler alert) it's almost impossible to avoid. With that much feedback to choose from, what purpose do the anonymous reviews in Publishers Weekly or Kirkus Review serve? Or the long movie reviews in the Times or the short ones in Variety? Or the restaurant reviews in the local paper? They might be saying, "I have a track record, and if you agree with my past picks, you'll agree with this," which works fine if it's always the same reviewer and we know them by name. They might be saying, "our publication has a good track record in picking what's going to be popular, so if you're a theater owner or a bookstore, pay heed," except they don't have a good track record, they have a terrible one. Or they might be saying, "attention actors and directors and writers--we don't like it when you make books and movies that we don't like, and we're going to pillory your work until you stop." Assigning someone who doesn't like an author's work to review the author's next book seems cruel to all involved. [And sometimes, they're just fun.] All a long way of saying that if you make something that people are likely to criticize, pay careful attention to which critics you listen to. They probably don't view the world the way you do, and worse, the way your fans do.

Reading criticism just to ruin your day is a waste of your talent.


Commentary: 7 tips for press reps from an arts journalist

Amy Taylor, on her blog The Taylor Trash, 10/28/12

There are a lot of good PRs out there - and I don't want to lump them into the same category as the bad ones. [So] here are some tips from one cynical, hardened arts journalist. Pay attention, and we'll get on just fine.

1. Email the Right Publication. Granted, this may sound like obvious advice, but in reality, emailing the editor of Auto Trader magazine about a new performance of  Othello isn't going to get you coverage. Granted, that is an extreme example, but it's important to remember that creating a suitable and relevant list of publications to contact is a good idea. Never assume the term 'arts' -- which usually stands for film, TV, theatre and radio -- includes visual art as well.

2. Email the Right Person. While time and effort will go into identifying suitable publications to contact, the same amount of time must go into contacting the relevant section editor. While some PRs think it best to contact the Editor-in-Chief, this can be pointless.

3. Get the Editor's Name Right. Again, this sounds simple, but you'd be amazed how easy it can be to use the wrong name in email correspondence. During the Fringe I was referred to as Andrew on more than one occasion. [And] there's nothing more disheartening than opening an email that begins with 'Dear Edinburgh Fringe Reviewer', 'Dear Journalist', 'Dear Editor' or my favourite, 'Dear Writer.' Find out the editor's name, spell it right and use it in the email.

4. Remember a PR is an Invitation, Not a Demand. I've had emails from PRs [with] no greeting, just a demand to 'come and see our show', or to insist that I 'send a reviewer along, because we've not had any reviews, yet, and we're getting a bit pissed off'.

5. Answer Your Emails In a Timely Manner. I know journalists can get a little lax with their emails, but we need the support of a good PR who responds to our emails quickly.

6. Keep Your Promises. If you state in your PR that you can accommodate a reviewer on any given date, then please, stand by that promise.

7. Communicate, Communicate, Dear God, Communicate. Similarly, I'm hearing more and more stories about critics at smaller publications and websites receiving invites to review work, but when they requested tickets, they were rejected by the PR, as they really wanted reviewers from 'bigger publications'.

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