Earlier tonight I sat on a panel, sponsored by the Community Media Workshop and the League of Chicago Theatres, on the above topic. Sylvia Ewing, Catey Sullivan, Scarlett Swerdlow and I, along with CMW moderator Gordon Mayer, rambled on for an audience of arts administrators and PR folks about the challenges being faced by arts coverage in print media, and new directions that the arts orgs can take to reach audiences.
We on the panel tried to give some tips on how to get traditional-media coverage when there's less of it available (tailor your pitches to the media outlet, envision ways to tell your story across different media platforms, etc.), but we also spent a lot of gas talking about online initiatives and social networking. Because let's face it: as I said tonight, TOC is slimming down a bit in the new year; the Reader announced this week that it's cutting its print listings way back; the Sun-Times has been moving many reviews to online-only; and the Tribune famously cut down its news hole last year. For features, reviews, even listings, you just can't expect print coverage as some kind of birthright at this point in time.
Which is why I was mildly annoyed by Don Hall's blog post today. Yeah, I remember the days when the Reader reviewed everything that opened. Unfortunately, those days are gone. All of us have to be choosy. We have a limited amount of space, a limited stable of writers, a limited amount of money with which to pay those writers, and a limited amount of time when there are 15 theater companies opening shows in the same weekend. We all weigh a number of factors in deciding where our resources are best spent.
But beyond Don's post, I was struck at tonight's discussion by the remarks of a gentleman representing another theater company, who seemed particularly frustrated by the panel's focus on the web. I'm paraphrasing here, but his question was something like, "What do you do when 90% of your audience is not online?"
Um…your organization dies?
I don't mean to seem glib, and I didn't get to answer this person's question as thoroughly as I'd hoped in the moment. But—and I'm assuming that since his audience is not online, I won't be offending them by writing this here on the intertubes—if you intend on remaining complacent with the audience you already have, and you're not attempting to attract new audiences: You. Will. Die.
It's not about feeling like oppressed artists. But we can't do your marketing job for you. As journalists and as critics, I promise we're all trying as hard as we can afford.