The “Problem” With Bloggers Part 2: There Is No “I” In…

by Smartie on June 16, 2010

The Is have it. By injecting a bit of personality, and a forum for conversation, blogs have become a go-to news source. Photo: Zeiss4Me/istockphoto.com

It’s been a while since I kicked off “The Problem with Bloggers” series, so it’s time to revisit and move into Part 2. For a refresh, the first post is here.

Over on Bitter Lemons (a blog for the LA theater community), the writer of this post makes a point that bloggers are not proper critics but diarists. There is, according to him, no “I” in criticism.

He writes:

A critic attends an event as a representative of the reader and keeps the hell out of sight.  He’s on assignment, not an adventure. To interject oneself is to create competing lines of focus, one towards the stage and another back to the writer.  There are several reasons someone might do this; none are legitimate.

Hmmm. I have witnessed Charles Isherwood referring to the dreaded “I” in some of his reviews. He also at times refers to the thoughts of his theater-going partner. John Heilpern, one of my favorite critics of all times, often wrote in the first person when he was reviewing for the New York Observer. And I don’t think anyone would consider them diarists.

And can a critic ever really be representative of a reader? Does the critic’s taste actually reflect that of his audience? Does the critic understand what their audience wants to read? Does the critic understand their readers at all? (Please check out this post on advertising vs editorial, and then come back and ponder that question.)

In a way, the “I” is crucial. Theater, like any other art form, is subjective. My husband has only seen one play, just one, in all the years we have been together, that he actually enjoyed. And he refuses to watch independent films with me. But his adoration of the Bruce Lee genre is well beyond my comprehension.

Further, if I have a bad day, I might be a grumpy audience member and sit in my seat and say “prove it.” Are critics immune to bad days? Judging by some of the meet and greets I do at the theater, critics definitely have them. And, yes, they are professionals and they are supposed to leave all that aside, etc etc. But haven’t you gone to work with a case of the grumps and lashed out at a coworker? Does being a critic mean that they are immune to being human, however unfair that may be?

But let’s move beyond this, since this too is quite subjective. Let’s look at the rise of blogs and the decline of newspapers. The majority of blogs are not breaking news, they are essentially re-reporting news gathered by “real” journalists. So why not just bypass the blog and go directly the source? Because readers are drawn to the personality of the blogger. It would appear to me that readers not only want, but actively seek out, that “I”.

Not only that, the reader can actually interact with that “I”. And the “I” will interact right back in the comments!

Yes, the newspaper sites have comment sections. But has anyone actually seen a journalist respond in those comments? Bloggers actively engage with their reader. They have conversations with them. The blog reader is not part of some market research package where they are deemed to be a worthy or not so worthy demographic. The reader is a GASP real person! Imagine that!

The reader’s opinion matters. They don’t have to wait to get approved by an anonymous editorial board after they submit a “letter to the editor.” And, beyond that, have you ever seen an editor respond?

Essentially, with the majority of blogs, there are no gatekeepers. Experts don’t have to wait until someone in old media approves them as experts to find a thriving audience. Blogs have leveled the playing field.

As Dave Charest commented on the original “Problem With Bloggers” post:

We all have a sphere of influence… What’s scary to the traditional types is that now other people have a louder voice. Everyone is a publisher. New media tools give everyone an equal digital ground to start on.

In other words, it’s a new era in information and communication.

What do you think? Do the Is have it? Tell me in the comments!

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June 17, 2010 at 6:39 pm

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Monica Reida June 17, 2010 at 12:27 am

I can speak from experience that I am not immune to bad days. I even admit that when writing a review of a play I saw last year that something I did acknowledge and take into account with the review was that something really bad had happened and the play made me completely forget about it.

You will see the writers at Time Out Chicago and Time Out New York interact with the people that write comments when there is a reason to interact. I do agree that you really don’t see that with newspapers.

I personally believe that a huge part of theater is creating a conversation and the “I” that is the critic or the reviewer and the “I” that might be an artist that worked on that show or another audience member can enable for there to be that conversation. There is an “I” in theater reviewing and especially in blogging.

Smartie June 17, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Bingo Monica!

I think there is a lot to say about conversation in general, be it theater, or hard news or what have you. And real conversation, not the name calling that goes on in the comments of some of the news sites, and which you don’t find as often on the blogs, which is kinda interesting. I wonder if the presence of the blogger has something to do with it.

Just had a thought… Imagine what the journalism establishment thought of Hunter S. Thompson back in the day… I don’t know enough about that–something to research.

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