Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Now We Lay To Rest

On July 20th, 2006 Bill Marx sent his last transmission on the WBUR Arts pages. The announcement of his departure came at a time when the Arts covergage on WBUR's Arts Pages was reaching a positive critical mass, and actually leaping out front with podcasts and in-depth interviews about everything from the My Name Is Rachel Corrie debate to the comparison of Philadelphia and Boston with regards to their efforts to nurture their arts and culture.

Almost overnight, the Arts pages, including the WBUR Arts blog Attitude, comparatively collapsed into disuse and became, shamefully, almost a ghost site. Now and then we have a review pop up, but instead of theatrical coverage, we have virtual tumbleweeds.

Then, at the end of last year, rumblings of the Boston Herald cutting its arts staff were circulating. After a few reviews from long-time Boston Herald theatre reviewer Terry Byrne appeared, we thought that the fears were unfounded. However, it was soon apparent that Terry was gone, and the Herald Arts pages began to look like the WBUR Arts pages.

There is also the case of the Boston Phoenix. The Alt-weekly continues its regular theatre coverage, but Carolyn Clay, the lead reviewer, seems forced to combine reviews of two to three productions into one column. Sometimes she deftly pulls this off, but other times her attempts are a little strained. The Phoenix has a stable of stringers, (Sally Cragin and Liza Weisstuch,) but they seem to be appearing less frequently.

The departure of Ed Siegel from the Boston Globe did not seem to stop theatre coverage at our major paper. (And Geoff Edgers, Globe Editor and keeper of the blog The Exhibitionist did some dogged reporting on the Woodruff departure at the American Repertory Theatre.) The coverage of smaller theatre companies has seen a slight decline though.

Of course, there is the overall decline in print media and newspapers, but does that mean that the paper's online presence has to decrease as well?

If WBUR didn't see the importance in Arts and Cultural coverage, how will the Globe and Herald eventually shake out?

More later.


Thomas Garvey said...

I sometimes find myself just wishing the other shoe would drop and the Phoenix, the Globe, and WBUR would end their theatre reviewing, too. Would it be such a catastrophe? It seems that big, touring shows are largely review-proof, and the audience for smaller shows surely is savvy enough to turn to the web for reviews if they want them. I think the three major reviewers - Kennedy, Clay, and Siegel - are essentially "brands," not individual voices, and so their work is essentially limiting, and not such a great thing for theaters. Eliminating the power of their platforms - and thus the very idea of a critical "brand" - might really liven up the discourse (you can see already that the more fractious web critics interact, at least to some degree, which I think is a good thing). At the very least, the resulting shake-up might force some people to seek out critical voices for themselves, and decide which reviewer THEY trust.

bj said...

I like what Thomas is saying about enlivening the discourse. As much as we need good critics, we need more discourse in general, like all those movie forums. Is there a Boston theater forum that I don't know about? A conversation amongst a handful of fractious bloggers should just be the beginning.