Saturday, February 7, 2009

Conversation: Newspapers Are Fading -- What Can A Theatre Group Do? WBEZ, Chicago, January 15

How can a theatre group reach its prospective audience, when financially hard-pressed newspapers are cutting staff and in many cases simply abandoning coverage of theatre arts? Chicago's public radio station WBEZ invited journalists, artists and theatre directors for a lengthy dialogue last January 15.

This is a long, wandering conversation -- 90 minutes or more -- with some interesting Qs and As from the audience at the end, along with some telling anecdotes.

One exchange during the main discussion particularly attracted attention here at Austin Live Theatre:

Question from moderator Gordon Mayer, Community Media Workshop: How do arts organizations explain to funders who expect reviews as one of their pieces of their evidence before they’re going to release another grant, or whatever process they have - - how do you explain that you are not getting reviewed, or not as much, and you don’t have those to include in your grant applications even if it’s a requirement?

(hesitation from among panelists, ended by Scarlett Swerdlow of the Illinois Arts Alliance)

Answer/Comment from Scarlett Swerdlow: Rather than explain why you’re not getting reviewed, you need to start preparing your funders for new types of reviews of your work. This goes back to the conversation of new media and Web 2.0. I work for an arts service organization, so it’s a different context, but it’s the same principle.

Reviews, whether they’re print or broadcast or online -- I see the point of them being that they help you market your event, but also offer you that third-party endorsement that what you’ve done is good and that it’s worthy. And these are both things that you can get through new media and web 2.0 tools.

There’s a whole host of direct marketing that’s cost effective and powerful that’s available to us through Web 2.0, everything from blogs to ways to share multi-media. There’s also the basics of e-mail and search engine optimization. Google and other search engines, that’s really how most people interact with the Internet. So if there are ways that you can boost your ratings, so that you pop up sooner, that’s a huge way to reach more people.

I also think these tools also offer you that opportunity to get that third party endorsement of your work. In Chicago there’s definitely a lot of respected seen-as-authority blogs that specifically focus on arts and culture. I would encourage you to start following those blogs, pitching those bloggers, and looking to get reviewed there as well. Traditional media is shrinking, but the blogosphere is definitely growing and there are huge opportunities there.

Rather than going to a funder and starting to make excuses, prepare them for new types of reviews, saying how they’re just as powerful as or even more powerful than print and broadcast. That’s one way to approach that.

Blurb from the "Chicago Amplified" section on the WBEZ website:

The Incredible Shrinking Media & What It Means for Your Arts Organization
(click title for link to WBEZ page)
with Sylvia Ewing, Catey Sullivan, Kris Vire, and Scarlett Swerdlow

Are you noticing the more press releases you send out the less arts coverage you see in the news? As media shrinks and newsrooms become understaffed, the arts become more underrepresented in traditional media.

Reflecting on what the new year may hold for arts groups in traditional and new media as part of this event are:

Sylvia Ewing, on-air talent at WTTW, Young Chicago Authors board member, & consultant
Catey Sullivan,
Scarlett Swerdlow, Illinois Arts Alliance
Kris Vire, Time Out Chicago and founding editor of
Gordon Mayer, Community Media Workshop, moderator

Listen in as they share their insights on the trend of shifting media and new online alternatives to help your arts organization reach new audiences and increasing your visibility using new online media.

Recorded Thursday, January 15, 2009 at Columbia College Film Row Cinema.

[Thanks to Jess Henderson from New Leaf, a Chicago theatre group; she posted a link to the WBEZ discussion in her February 5 article "Engaging Our Core" on her blog "Violence of Articulation."]

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