Debate: I’m a ‘proper writer’, does that make my blog any good?

Debate: I’m a ‘proper writer’, does that make my blog any good?

It’s no shock to anyone today that a certain article from The Stage has sparked an avid debate on Twitter about theatre bloggers. I won’t be the first or last to write about my views on this subject – blogger credibility is a regular topic of conversation in any sector. But I do hope that my opinion will be seen as fair. Yes I’m a blogger, and I will champion our industry until I’m blue in the face, but there are fair points to be made on both sides of this argument.

In case you’ve been living under a rock today, here’s the situation. Producer, Danielle Tarento,has been quoted in The Stage saying that unpaid bloggers often lack the ‘intellectual background’ to write reviews. The article talks about her comments at the Everyone’s a Critic event and goes on to say that she criticised the quality of reviews bloggers produce and that many of these people aren’t ‘proper writers’. This of course has been met with a great deal of criticism and uproar among the theatre blogging community, but have people got the wrong end of the stick?

Forgive me for being selfish for a moment, but I have to clarify my position. I’m a ‘proper writer’. By Danielle’s standards in this article it seems I am ‘qualified’ to run my own blog. For those readers who don’t know, I have a degree in Print Journalism and since graduation I have worked in PR and marketing for almost three years. My job right now is pretty varied but I am technically paid to write and my experience goes back to my early teenage years, voluntarily writing for my local paper.

So – I have some experience. Great. But what makes my blog any better than that of someone who isn’t paid to write on a daily basis? Well, nothing really. I’m the last person to say my blog is grammatically perfect and I’m far behind many others in terms of followers and readership. The funny thing is that I started to my blog to improve my writing in a first job that didn’t give me the chance to do so!

I think Danielle may have missed the point slightly. What matters with blog-writing is passion. I have an intense passion for my subject matter, as do many fellow bloggers. Why else would we be writing about it for free? Just because we aren’t paid theatre critics it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t voice our opinion on a show. I think anyone has the right to blog about theatre if they are interested in it, and indeed anyone can.

Don’t get me wrong here – I can see what Danielle is getting at. Just owning a blog and writing reviews on it doesn’t make you a good blogger. Neither does it make you a theatre expert. Again, I have direct experience in this area. I am a performer, all be it on an amateur level, but I know how it works. I know if someone gave a good vocal performance. I know if a lighting cue is slightly off. I know if a dance formation is out of line. But at the end of the day I’m still just giving my humble opinion and it is up to you as the reader to decide if my reviews are credible, fair or worthy of influencing your ticket-buying habits!

I think that’s what most people forget when it comes to reviews, whether written by a blogger or a paid writer for a national newspaper. It’s just someone’s opinion. You don’t have to agree with it. You don’t have to like it. It’s there to guide you, and the majority of bloggers and paid critics will do just that. Not everyone will – there’s a small minority that seem to find pleasure in ripping shows apart (trust me I’ve seen them) but these are the ones that won’t get very far and they certainly won’t damage a show’s reputation with their small reach.

@shakespeareanLK You miss the point Laura. There are fantastic bloggers out there. There are also some awful ones. No harm in saying that.

@MrJonathanBaz @shakespeareanLK Surely it is the job of the PR company to ensure they are only inviting quality bloggers to their shows?

West End Wilma (self-proclaimed ‘non-proper writer’ with a highly successful blog)raised an excellent point on Twitter – if you think a reviewer is no good, don’t invite them to your show. Since the article has been written Danielle has stated that she does see the benefits of bloggers and invites them to her shows. I think the article in The Stage is a bit vague and the section on Danielle’s views is brief. I asked Danielle on Twitter to clarify the context of the quotes but I am yet to hear back. It may have been taken wrongly in the article but it does give off a slightly elitist view – you can see why people are angry!

But there are two sides to this story as I have discussed. Yes, not all blogs are ‘good’, but they have a right to be there. Blogging is there as a stepping stone to ‘professional’ criticism for some and a hobby for others, but no matter what category you fall in to you still play an important role in our theatrical community’s process. Blogging is essential in our industry today and long may it continue!

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