Editorial: the arts need more than word of mouth

Maria Roberts on the value of word-of-mouth reviews and professional arts criticism.

There is always talk about the ‘death of’ something: the death of print media, the death of the novel, the death of the opera, the death of ballet – this week it is the turn of the arts journalist.

Recent reports suggest that in September the British newspaper, The Independent on Sunday, will cut seven journalists from its workforce; including a number of celebrated theatre,TV and music critics.

The circulation of The Independent is not large: in January 2013 Printweek reported that between December 2011 and December 2012 the paper’s circulation dropped from 119,551 to 78,082. And this year The Independent on Sunday figures fell 18.94 per cent year-on-year to 125,373 – in part due to having halted international sales.

The publication wasn’t alone; other print newspapers also suffered. This seems madness: one would assume Indie readers are exactly the sort to value reviews provided by the likes of theatre critic Kate Bassett and music writer Anna Picard, who are said to be in the line of fire.

In August 2012 Jasper Rees, the former Telegraph journalist who co-founded theartsdesk, explained in IAM why he set up an arts website when faced with budget cuts at the paper.  He wrote: ‘Everyone is a critic now… Not only can you review films yourself, but you can also review the reviews posted on the comments sections of online newspapers… The newspaper industry increasingly seems to regard the critical fraternity as a luxury… as always with the arts, the bottom line should not be allowed to become the only necessary measurement.’

Meanwhile Equity, the Theatrical Management Association, and The Stage have launched a campaign looking for audiences and theatre staff to become Venue Champions.

Democratisation recognises the worth of communities, but word-of-mouth schemes shouldn’t be the only valuable means of communication in the arts.

Read the latest issue of IAM here.

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