Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The QC Actor's studio

I have been ranting over on QCTImes on "The Burke Show" blog (or something like that) about his recent trip to California to undergo a "journalism/theater boot camp".

See the introduction to the series http://www.qctimes.com/blogs/?p=299

I have tried to get a conversation going and have mostly failed. It appears to me that the trip was a waste of time and energy. It seems to me that time would have been better spent interviewing theater artists in the Quad Cities and finding out what their needs are. Instead, he went to see theater in California. What that will do to improve theater coverage in the Quad Cities I fail to see.

I've not been asked, but I'll put out some ideas that I think will help Quad Cities Theater/Arts coverage.

1. Support "classical" and "fine" arts as much as you support rock/country/pop acts.

2. Support local acts over national acts. When a national act is in town it dominates coverage getting front page coverage before and front page reviews after.

3. Educate critics (locally of course). There is one great critic and one or two good critics in the area.

4. The media should get more involved in local arts, and local arts more involved in the media. Again, 8am on Saturday isn't a big time slot to build an audience with, neither is page 3 or 5 in the Go section. Especially when theater shows are all mashed together under one headline.

There are other quibbles, but mostly the above 4 are a problem.

If the media would work with local artists we could build a nice "scene" in the area. We do have plenty of arts groups, but many are struggling. Excellence seems to be put down, not rewarded.

This can change. I enourage you to get involved in Mr. Burke's conversation. I encourage those bored newspaper writers/editors who may drift over here to spend some time going behind the scenes locally and asking/working with local artists to expand the arts scene which should reward the community and the paper equally.

A few good words is one thing. Media paired with artists is a driving force that we could use to promote the whole area and could be an engine for some economic expansion.

Anyway, just my rant for today, I suppose.

Peace all


-shane- said...

I'm really confused by this post.

So, theoretically, what you're saying is that... Eric Clapton comes to the Mark. Local media should bury the story in favor of a local musician instead? Sorry, I don't quite see the logic in that.

Yes, you're right, the local arts scene DOES need coverage... but if anything, I honestly think that local media sometimes OVER-covers the local arts scene and doesn't give enough coverage to national entertainment issues. In order to properly assess the QC arts scene, you've gotta have a pretty solid understanding on what goes on all over the place as well -- otherwise we'd all be living in some weird Quad City bubble where we can only compare and contrast against other things happening in our area, and that makes for a pretty biased and thin world view.

Also, and this is coming from MY experience, okay, which is local rock bands, and I know you're alluding to the fact that we over-cover some of them, I realize that -- but it's where I have experience and can talk. Anyways, a lot of local musicians DON'T want media attention. Aspiring QC hipsters sometimes don't cotton to their name and face in the Dispatch or in the Go section... as though mass media, even on a local level, is synonymous with "selling out."

I can relate a story about a band I was once assigned to cover back when I was doing correspondant work for the Dispatch. They're a local band -- and a damn good one at that. But they turned down EVERY request for an interview, didn't provide us with a photo, and didn't want us to cover them, like it would drive down their coolness factor or compromise their artistic integrity or what-not. So part of you wants to say, "Well, then, screw YOU, elitist band. Let's not cover you." But at the same time, they're a newsworthy band, so we covered them as best we could with the material we had at the time.

The fact that The Dispatch and the Times are NOT niche publications makes for a real challenge when you're trying to provide fair coverage to EVERYTHING going on in town. We've got a wiiiiiide audience to cater to... which means we have to strive towards providing equal coverage to every facet of the local entertainment scene -- rock music, classical music, theatre, visual arts, fine arts, etc. -- anything newsworthy. And we have to do it without boring the socks off of readers who might not be "in" to a certain type of art, know what I mean? Not many college kids are going to care about a quilting exhibit... and not many quilters are going to care about a Driver of the Year gig at Ribco. Somehow we've got to cover BOTH to appeal to ALL of our readers without someone going, "Gee, this paper sucks."

That said, I think we do a pretty great job of covering the local entertainment scene. Over here at the Dispatch, Sean Leary busts his a** every week to get as much stuff covered within the # of column inches we get allotted every week. You'd flip your gourd if you saw the stack of press releases, show announcements, etc. that get routed his way every week. He's truly a miracle worker, and I've always kinda patted ourselves (The Dispatch/Argus/Leader) on the back for the amount of space we give the local arts community.

I remember when, loong before I worked at the Dispatch, I put on raves for a living. Big, all-night dance parties that were the trend back in the 90's. Well, we were SUPER cautious about media coverage, because at the time you had shows like Dateline and 20/20 talking about the "horrors" of raves and sensationalizing the whole scene into one big hedonistic drug orgy, which was FAR from reality. At the same time, despite the fact that we operated as best we could within the confines of the law (permits secured, professional security employed, etc.,) part of the appeal of the rave scene was that it was "underground." It was edgy. They weren't advertised in the paper or on TV. You had to be "in the know." In other words, we were JUST like those bands -- we didn't want sensationalized news stories or sugary drivel that might take away the underground element of the parties.

So we were cautious about media coverage... until Sean Leary showed up. Sean made the effort to track us down (which wasn't particularly easy; we didn't exactly maintain a high profile) and came to us with a shared mindset - that raves were a cultural phenomenon, that dance music was no longer something to laugh at - and he wouldn't buy into the sensationalism of the mass media - and I think after speaking to us, he respected our opinions and OUR desire to expand the cultural boundaries of the QC -- so we gave our first major interview to Sean, and it was a GREAT piece (despite the fact that he quotes me as saying the word "stoked" during the interview which I scream from the rooftops is NOT a word in my vocabulary.) Anyways, that's the exact moment when Sean and I became friends. And it blew my mind that a local newspaper could be so accommodating and open-minded to an artform that most people hadn't been exposed to or had WAY incorrect information on.

So I think that speaks to the Dispatch's attempts to be fair in our coverage to an incredibly wide variety of the arts. At the same time, I'm also good friends with Dave Burke and I know that he strives to do the same over at the Times.

I don't think there's anything wrong with wanting to go to a major market and attend a workshop on theatre coverage. What's wrong with trying to analyze and objectively critique your writing and journalism skills in a forum of your peers? Nothing bad can come from that, can it?

Socialist Christian Hippie said...

Alright, let's take this apart a little.

Yes, to your first point, if Eric Clapton is coming, there is no need to cover it. It will be known. Who doesn't know about Eric Clapton? There are billions of words out there on him, and a few hundred more is not going to make much difference.

UNLESS there is a particular local angle. Or you get the chance to ask about local issues/arts with them. Usually, though, its just a summary of what most people know. What's the point?

As to comparing the Quad Cities art scene, yes, there is a point to that. There are one or two theater groups in this area who could compete or rank right up there with top groups that I've seen.

Within 3 hours of the Quads you've got one of the greatest Theater cities in the nation. (Also lightly covered aside from the big obvious that everyone has already hear of)

Strangely enough, I think that more criticism is needed, not less. Pandering is as bad if not worse than not covering at all.

As to honing your work as a critic, again, I'd say I've read ONE great critic in the Quads. One who knows exactly what they are doing and how to write.

The others are good to fair.

The primary problem being, it seems to me, that they don't read good criticism. Reading great criticism will breed good criticism.

Challenging critics understand the workings of art. I think there is a general lack of arts knowledge by many critics. That can be rectified here. Or, at least start here. Burke's blog (that's all I've got to go in) seems to show a lack of understanding of theater basics. I do not know him personally. I only have the writing to go on. Same with Sean Leary who, from all I hear, is a great enough guy, but his writing is passable and he actively favors pop/rock over theater/classical art.

You do have only so many inches. I hate to see them wasted. I understand that papers are trying (I don't think that it's working) to skew younger. Yet, again, one could say that that results in further pandering to the audience.

The Dispatch has stopped publishing a locally focussed entertainment section in favor of a nationally centered (pardon me while I laugh) "ARTS" section.

Inches gone.

I just think the paper would get a better bottom line staying inside the Quad Citie's bubble. Heck, I get the Dispatch, and I don't even read the Sunday paper. It's all national except for a very few pages.

I also get the Sunday New York times. Something I would encourage all print arts editors/critics/writers to read.

I don't expect that from the Dispatch, but I do expect them to have a good knowledge base. I do expect more local than National coverage. National coverage is done so much better by others (often times the national arts coverage is simply taken from national writers).

I appreciate your comments. I want better arts coverage. That is what is most important.

Peace, let's keep the dialog going. Any response or other voices out there?