...the networking public does not need a newspaper or even Us Magazine to prattle about Brangenlina or Lady Gaga; they will do that quite naturally...
This last week, a colleague of mine launched a discussion thread in Twitter that was absolutely fascinating. It had, as a source, an article he had read. He was asked to link the article. There was no online version.
End of discussion.
This last week, as well, someone pointed me towards an article that was being discussed on Facebook and Twitter. They linked it. Paywall.
End of convo.
In an episode of This Is The CPC I discussed print media and its failings, as I saw them, with Arden Ryshpan, executive director of Actors Equity. She reminded me that newspapers were like television - with their discussion on celebrities or American movies and TV - in that they needed eyeballs to survive.
I'll buy that.
But the networking public does not need a newspaper or even Us Magazine to prattle about Brangenlina or Lady Gaga; they will do that quite naturally, fed by the machine that is Twitter, Facebook, Google+, the new unthink.com and the thousands upon thousands of fanzines and fan sites available - absolutely free! - on the internet.
You like 'em, you go, you leave and have a coffee while you read the review or the the promo pieces on them.
Nor do I go to print to "discuss" Cirque du Soleil, or the latest touring mega-musical. They are interesting - don't get me wrong - but, really, what the hell is there left to say about them? They're not new, they're not advancing the art. You like 'em, you go, you leave and have a coffee while you read the review or the the promo pieces on them.
Theatre, like any art, grows in newness and discussion of it. Newspapers used to be part of that discussion. Some still are - my beloved Guardian, the New York Times, and the Globe and Mail. What makes these latter three papers different from many is that they send a goodly number of their theatre writing out into the world of network/discussion and that, my friends, is precisely what happens. Moreover, editors and journalists at the paper participate actively in discussion on Twitter and Facebook, and in comments sections following the actual articles. Theatre fans link back to the articles and the discussion - which can be amazingly fun and a little hairy sometimes - nurtures media, spectator and art.
...if you have accepted that the only way to sell papers is with yet another Cirque du Soleil article, then that's the one which goes behind the paywall.
Here's the advice I would give a thinking A&E editor: put the populist crap behind a paywall (it's mostly wire stuff anyway) - leave the majority of lively and visual arts, architecture and books coverage open. I understand you need the eyeballs. But if you have accepted that the only way to sell papers is with yet another Cirque du Soleil article, then that's the one which goes behind the paywall.
Simply: if you do not want your arts journalists to join the conversation so necessary to the growth of all art, then stop covering it. Leave the work of theatre coverage and discussion to people who know how to do it and you go ahead and make the paper as glossy, colourful star-ridden and photo-laden as People.
But here's the thing: People will always do it better.