Monday, November 02, 2009

Random Thoughts & Tweets: Social Media And Criticism

Random Thoughts & Tweets: Social Media And Criticism

Yesterday, theatre blogger Joseph Anthony Gomez of I Can't I Have Rehearsal posed the following question to me via Twitter (@josephgomez):

@SteveOnBroadway What do U consider pros/cons 4 writing theater reviews 4 blogging format/social media as opposed 2 other media like print?
My response:

@josephgomez Perhaps I'll need to write a long-form answer on my SOB blog since 140 characters won't do!
Joseph responded:

@SteveOnBroadway it took me 20 minutes just to reword the question so it would fit in 140 characters or less! haha!
Joseph and I subsequently communicated via that outmoded tool -- e-mail -- and he added some depth to his questions.

Which is kind of a funny coincidence given a column on the other side of the Atlantic in today's The Independent. Nicholas Lezard doesn't seem to comprehend that more often than not people are using Twitter to communicate news with one another. Ironically, I learned about Lezard's column from, you guessed it, Twitter (via @ShentonStage)!

In his rant, Lezard says:
The name tells us straightaway: it's inconsequential, background noise, a waste of time and space. Actually, the name does a disservice to the sounds birds make, which are, for the birds, significant, and for humans, soothing and, if you're Messiaen, inspirational. But Twitter? Inspirational?

No – it's inspiration's opposite. The online phenomenon is about humanity disappearing up its own fundament, or the air leaking out of the whole Enlightenment project. In short, I feel about Twitter the way some people feel about nuclear weapons: it's wrong. It makes blogging look like literature. It's anti-literature, the new opium of the masses.
Since I'm writing what you're currently reading via, um, what Lezard describes as "literature," here's my two cents. Twitter is a great and essential tool for aggregating information as never before. While it may have previously been microblogging at its worst, it is evolving every day. In my humble opinion, the best tweets come from those who are sharing ideas and information (along with their TinyURLs and Bit.lys) to move people to read comprehensive stories in, oh, say newspapers, as well as blogs.

Now, as for answering Joseph's more thorough off-line questions, here's what I shared via that old-fashioned and oft-overlooked tool called e-mail:

It's kind of funny. In the earliest days of writing reviews on SOB, I took to doing them longform where I would write exhaustively about every aspect of a show.

But putting myself in the audience members' shoes, I came to realize that reading a review online can be tedious if it's too long, so I started to shorten them significantly and that usually came at the expense of critiquing some of the design elements and providing extended comments about plot lines. Online audiences want something shorter, more concise and easier to read, and it's more akin to radio/television reviews as opposed to the longform variety that you'll see in newspapers and magazines like the New Yorker.

As to the format I use? I've been across the board. I try to vary my style rather than writing the same thing over and over again. It takes some imagination. I usually try to think of the beginning and conclusion first and then build each review from there. It can be a challenge, but then it's nothing compared to producing a show, right?

Regardless of the new FTC rules governing blogs, which by the way I think are foolhardy, I think freebies will continue to exist for some of the reasons I outlined on the show, including the sheer cost per (theatre) ticket. Even though I pay for each and every ticket for shows I see and review, I'm the exception to the rule. I think what you'll see are bloggers simply noting at the bottom of each review that they were comped, and chances are you might even see more negative reviews as a way to tell their audiences that no free ticket can sway their opinion.

As social media continues to grow at the very same time mainstream media is cutting back (and print media is dying altogether), I believe blogs will be sought out even more, especially as mainstream critics gravitate online. Of course, anyone can have a blog or an opinion (it's true in some respects, now more than ever, that "everyone's a critic"), but it takes resolve and drive to keep blogging on a regular basis. And just like any other critic from other media, you build an audience who knows and respects your point of view or on the flipside can say, "well if he likes it, that means I'll hate it."

Blogs are here for the long haul. It's just a matter of finding those you value and trust.

How's that for 140 characters?!

Mr. Lezard, I would readily admit that I poo-pooed Twitter before I actually took the time to understand it and grasp its potential. But remember, without it, I would never have known about your opinion, however misinformed.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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At 02 November, 2009, Blogger karigee said...

I've had a love/hate relationship with Twitter for a while, and can only conclude that everyone expects and gains different things from it and other like platforms.

I utilize it mainly for the conversational aspect (keeping one toe in the stream & checking in with friends), and for the easy share capabilities, though I'm trying to keep a closer eye these days on what I'm sharing and why.

It's less useful to me as a way to keep up on actual "news," because I do think that's what leads to the *noise* Lezard is referring to: it's like being on a conference call with a thousand people talking at one time, and half of them are repeating what the other half just said. I personally don't get much value from that, and since the character limit by design reduces most everything to headlines, you're left with neither context nor content—as well as a lot of people whose only aim seems to be beating everyone else to the punch with a news break. So I've cut way down on who I follow, and I refine that list frequently; that's what works for me, and in this way there is peace across the land :)

(I suspect I wandered WAY off the path here, so thank you in advance for your tolerance. But this really is a thing I've struggled with.)

At 02 November, 2009, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Actually, I think you present a very articulate case on noise that's very relevant here and right on the path.

Like you, I am very judicious in who I follow so I reduce the level of noise and enhance peace across my own land!

At 03 November, 2009, Blogger Esther said...

I think blogging works best as a short-form medium. I think a lot of people use the Internet the same way they channel-surf with the TV remote. Plus, a lot of people Web surf at work so they do it in little bits and chunks. (Also, I just find it uncomfortable on the eyes to read a single story online that goes on too long.)

I know I go on way too long with my blog posts! That's the downside of being able to write as much as you want. ;-( But I figure, no one's paying for it so if they're bored they can just stop!

Twitter gives me the ability to keep up on what's happening in theatre, books or whatever else I'm interested in without having to check 20 or 30 web sites a day. I've found links to many, many articles I wouldn't have seen otherwise.

Plus, it's kind of a rolling conversation with people who share those interests. I don't have any friends at work or in other parts of my life who are all that interested in theatre so I enjoy that aspect of Twitter.

Like Kari said, you just have to find the number and type of followers that works for you!

At 10 November, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...


After a good six months or more of working on some of these newer social media tools, especially Twitter, I am just beginning to get the hang of the idea that they can be much more than just the worst kind of brain vomit.

While there is that, and that is important in it's own way, I think there is a great value in blogging and Twittering in the way that you do.

Everyone that I deal with wants to know they are going to have that unique or wonderful experience when they take the time, money and energy to go to a show, by posting your reviews, it is a pretty good way to help people experience the theatre more completely. By using Twitter to further your message, you are using Twitter in the way that it was hopefully intended.

At 10 November, 2009, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Thanks for that feedback. I believe that blogging and social networking do go hand in hand, and if done right, can be very compelling.

At 13 November, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 13 November, 2009, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Chang, Unfortunately, you violated rule number 4. Thus your message has been deleted.


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