Arts Journalism in 2011

Convener(s): Dan Baker

Participants: Honour Bayes, Amber Massie-Blomfield, Adam Brace, Andy Field, Flavia Fraser-Cannon, Lyn Gardner, Becki Haines, Andrew Haydon, Tyrone Huggins, Phelim McDermott, Ronan McMahon, Jake Orr, Tanja Raaste, Matt Trueman, Miriam Zendle and numerous other people who arrived as the session progressed!


Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

The label of ‘Arts Journalism’ can be an implication of vocational training; journalists and bloggers are not necessarily one and the same.  Bloggers are often not from a journalistic background, and are instead people with a passion to write about and explore what interests them.

In addition to the above, bloggers usually present their writing as representations of opinions; unlike journalists and the nature of what they write, they may not report on ‘facts’ (NB – reviews are an obvious exception to this).

Bloggers can develop skills related to journalism through engaging with those from a professional background; for example, A Younger Theatre now has an editor whose experience is being shared with the blogging team to their benefit

Attitudes towards arts journalism/reviewing have shifted greatly in print media in recent times – for example, The Scotsman now use journalists who otherwise do not write about the arts to review at the Edinburgh Festivals. 

With pressures on print media to cut costs/raise revenue, arts journalism is frequently reduced or limited to a particular scope; the New York Times cover ‘bigger’ shows, but are not open/do not have the means to review more experimental work

A number of journalists and bloggers come from a performance/arts background, which arguably affects the nature of what they write; an experience of the world and processes related to the arts can lead to a different interpretation of work than those without that background may come to.

Does having a passion for something help when writing about it, or can it hinder by making it tougher to maintain a distance and professional approach to work? 

How is it possible for artists/companies to get reviews when the world of arts journalism and blogging continues to change?

  • Working with PRs can bring pre-existing relationships to a company, helping to open doors which may otherwise be closed
  • Print media have specific criteria which artists/companies should consider before approaching them; for example, many national newspapers only review shows which are accepted as being of interest to their readership, and only when they have longer runs

When touring work, it can be even more difficult to get reviewers in due to the reasons outlined above

Reviewing can focus on the ‘industry’ as much as the art; there is an economy which can drive journalist’s motivations (or that of their editors) to engage with work. 

Festivals bring together large numbers of companies/artists; reviewers who attend them often find the criteria for which shows they should review are relaxed, and subsequently can engage with work they would not normally see

After an initial introduction to a company’s work, a critic/journalist may then begin to ‘follow’ that company – ensuring they attend other work by them, and possibly trying to engage more with them to learn about their practice/artistic aims

Blogging provides an opportunity for active journalists/critics to build a level of trust with their readers and to hone their skills; this is particularly true for freelancers, where working across various platforms/for various publishers/at various times can mean they may not be able to publish regular work otherwise.

The cultural and critical landscapes will continue to shift and change over the coming years; will the role of reviewers and their dynamic with artists also change, or have they already been clearly defined?

The job of an arts journalist is now to serve artists/companies, but to serve their readership – they need to keep an arm’s length relationship with work they see.

Is there an ‘audience’ for arts journalism (not reviews)?  If so, who are they?  Many of us working in the arts may read such writing, but do people outside of the industry do so too?

As freelance journalists, you need to pitch an idea or be commissioned before being published – apart from blogging, where you can decide to write whatever and whenever you wish.

The online community and the various platforms used allow for more specifically-focused arts writing – i.e. blogs related to work of a particular genre, or for a particular demographic.

Is moving focus away from national publications a good thing?  Although their scope and resources can often be limited, they are still more established than blogs – and subsequently may be a better point of access for more casual engagers with the arts and the online community

Journalism is hard, but is worthwhile if you commit

Online writing allows for a legacy of work.  As theatre is a live medium you cannot see/relive a particular performance again once it’s finished (unlike recorded media such as film); reviews and articles can be stored and referred back to, as so much data is recorded and stored online.

It is good for the arts that there is a multiplicity of voices writing about them, as this allows for a richness of writing and criticism


Does having an increasing number of bloggers affect the relationships and trust readers build with them?  Is there a danger of the online community becoming too saturated, with a proliferation of substandard writing affecting people’s perception of its value as a whole?

  • With an increasing number of bloggers appearing, how can users best refine their searches to find the information they do want?
  • It’s easy to say “look it up”, but time can restrict people from doing so if there are more results due to search terms not being defined enough


Investing time in developing relationships is important for all parties – for writers, artists and audiences; building relationships creates a level of familiarity and trust 

The world continues to develop and change, so it is important to keep abreast of these changes in order to engage with it fully

The right to reply to journalists is much more open now than it has been, due to the internet – people can now openly agree or disagree with something they have read on public forums, comments and social networks

  • When reviewing was solely in newspapers, writing a letter to disagree/complain did not guarantee it would be published, and such correspondence may stay private; although moderation can exist online, the increasing number of public platforms available mean opinions can be spread further


Reporting vs. Supporting – what kind of a relationship exists/should exist between journalists and artists?  Do journalists have a responsibility to help support the development of artists?

Should PRs be more responsible for promoting the arts wider, in addition to their own work serving the needs of clients?  PRs aren’t just responsible for defending/supporting the work of their clients, but for the communities within which they exist

Performing arts are much more fractious and competitive than the likes of museums and galleries; we are seemingly less inclined to support each other in securing a bright future.

Journalists should be encouraged to write what they want to, more than what they’re told to – they need to be properly engaged as a creative community, and not merely has hired hands

PRs should maybe take their jobs more seriously in a vocational respect – formalised training and a wider understanding of how sophisticated their role can be will help them to better do their jobs

A number of artists maintain blogs, but it can be difficult to talk about other artists as tone is difficult to read in print – and subsequently writing can be misinterpreted, and relationships can become frayed 

Blogging provides artists an opportunity to have their voices heard, and to be generous and open about the work they create and engage with

It is important for artists who blog to be transparent about the perspective from which they write, and to not have an agenda – blogs serve a greater purpose than being a marketing exercise

Having a rich ecology of voices is a good thing – a multiplicity of voices helps develop a stronger critical culture, particularly when exploring new areas of performance/writing 

Artists who blog have to be careful to not assume a higher level of understanding due to the fact that they make work; this isn’t necessarily true, and can alienate readers

  • As everyone is part of the same critical ecology, should there be hierarchy/levels of status between bloggers/writers?


All levels of knowledge and engagement in critical writing can be equally valid, as they help us inform each other

There is much to be optimistic about in arts journalism – it is not journalism itself which is under threat, but merely print journalism.  Recognition of this is crucial in understanding the continuing development of journalism and criticism 

The internet allows people to “think out loud” – the immediacy of platforms such as Twitter allows opinions to be shared almost as a stream-of-consciousness, which can then be expanded upon in longer writing such as blogs/reviews/editorials/features

The build-up of reputations takes time – high-profile critics and large publications did not start with large followings and the trust of lots of people, and similar growth is required for bloggers and emerging journalists/critics 

It is impossible to predict what criticism and journalism will look like in the future, as it also depends on what the arts look like – and things make change as a reaction to this

  • Furthermore, what will the internet look like? There have already been huge developments moving into Web 2.0, and similar changes may take place as we head towards Web 3.0 / Semantic Web


As the range of options regarding who to read become wider, how will choice and decisions be facilitated?  What can bloggers and journalists do to ensure their work is most accessible in terms of finding it online?


Will we see certain blogs become ‘institutions’ over time, as we have seen with newspapers – if so, to what extent will this happen?


Critics have a lot of points to make/jobs to do when writing, but time and space are becoming increasingly limited (especially for newspaper journalism); however, the internet has expanded that again, allowing people to write what they want, when they want (and possibly to expand on things that have been printed)

  • Should artists have more sympathy with the many requirements critics are required to undertake?


How can trust best be developed between parties, without either becoming too afraid to say something or completely confrontational?  There should be sparring, not fighting!


Students can be used as reviewers for some publications/websites (particular in Edinburgh) – they can be useful as representatives of that audience, but are unlikely to have the critical language/facilities that their professional/more experienced counterparts do.  How useful can their reviews therefore be?


Should bloggers call themselves/be referred to as ‘professional’?  Although perhaps not paid for their writing, they may have a certain breadth of experience that gives their writing greater credence – and not being referred to as professional may lead to unfair judgements on their ability/value

  • Many theatre companies/PRs already make value judgements when it comes to bloggers, so should this be challenged?


At what point may someone cross the line from ‘blogger’ into ‘journalist’?  Do these labels put a value on their work, and how much readers can trust them? 

Comments on websites can be both good and bad, but there is a question over whether or not they should be moderated – can ‘trolling’ be controlled, or should we accept it is part of the internet?

  • Comments can be beneficial for both journalists/bloggers and artists, as they can often offer a critique of their work and possibly suggestions on how to improve.


Resources/Wider Reading:

  • – A blog/online magazine focused on dance, containing articles by non-professional writers
  • – An online platform exclusively written by people under 26, which offers opinions and resources aimed specifically at young people
  • – An online magazine aimed at emerging artists in the arts and entertainment industries; also incorporating The Drama Student Magazine
  • – A music magazine for PRS members; written by journalists, but not necessarily those who specialise in music
  • Peggy Holman – Engaging Emergence – A book which looks at the effects of change within various industries, and how to find the positives in such situations
  • – A campaign led by the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) to protect the quality of journalism in the face of cuts
  • – Forum which provides support/advice/listening for journalists of all levels within an online community