The Los Angeles Times ran an article on Tuesday, April 8 about the possible demise of the cultural critic. In the article, they cited numerous high profile critics which have recently left their posts, begging the question whether or not they are a dieing breed.
As many major newspapers continue to lose large numbers of readers, the impact of reviews and critics is beginning to shift. I myself blogged about this experience in a previous post. This is the first time that I have read an acknowledgement of this trend in a major daily newspaper. With the rise of many online, "citizen" review sites such as Yelp.com, more and more people are looking to common lay folks for their opinions on cultural attractions. Fewer and fewer people are turning to what Mr. Goldstein refers to as the "arbiters of culture." In fact, Mr. Goldstein's son hits it right on the head when he said "I trust my friends more than I trust that guy writing the review." This highlights the power of social media--it provides a context and an opportunity for friends to share their personal opinions of your product. With this ongoing paradigm shift, we as marketers and publicists are going to need to start paying more and more attention to our online reviews as we do to the major daily writers.
Part of what that means is being consistently on our game. No longer can we invite the major reviewers in for one specific night where we all dress up and put out the good china--we have to constantly have the good china on display because every performance is going to be reviewed by someone.
Just a couple of days ago, Arena Stage hosted a panel of professional theater reviewers who volunteered to speak to the participants of our Young Critics Program (a program that invites students to attend shows and review them). On the panel was Peter Marks (chief theater reviewer for the Washington Post). One particularly smart student asked Peter about how he perceived the power of his positive and negative reviews. And although I am paraphrasing, Peter acknowledged there was a time when a reviewer could make or break a show, but he feels this is no longer the case. I can attest that the Washington Post and Mr. Marks in particular still has a very large following, but I would tend to agree with him.
And let's not forget that even though we might get the occasional bad review (and let's admit, sometimes it is deserved), critics are providing us a service by writing about us. The loss of the critic is tragic. Fewer critics = less coverage. Less coverage = less public knowledge.