U-G-L-Y, you ain’t got no alibi and other criticisms

Maura Lafferty has a post about social media and criticism that focuses extensively on the quality of the content on Examiner.com and how it relates to more mainstream media outlets.  At issue is the credibility of the writers themselves, and by extension the credibility of the outlet for which they write.

I wrote for a time at Examiner.com as the Kansas City Performing Arts dude, but I got tired of self-editing whatever passes for my own writing style.  Whatever qualifications any particular writer may or may not have, there is at least some semblance of credibility associated with it, because I had much the same experience one of the commenters on the above article had (John Marcher).  One of the pieces I wrote there was a review of the touring production of “Spring Awakening” a couple years back, and the publicity people of the production treated me as if I were an actual member of the media, which I admittedly found hilarious and somewhat disarming, if only because I’m just a dude who likes to write about music and make inappropriate references to truck stops, venereal diseases, and the Kardashians.

It’s a bit of a Catch-22, because there are some talented writers out there who can benefit from the exposure of a site like Examiner.com, but there are far more that write like this.  As Mr. Marcher points out in his comment, a blog is often still not taken as seriously as whatever Examiner.com is, even though neither has journalistic standards beyond the ability to type.

The line distingushing what is considered credible and what isn’t has become incredibly blurred.  The Huffington Post, for example, has developed enough of a reputation to be considered a major member of the massive news and opinion machine in a way that, say, my stepdad’s old blog is not, even though I could easily argue that my stepdad is more qualified to write about political issues than Sean Penn.  At the end of the day, The Huffington Post is a blog like any other blog…but they’ve created a brand and have become as relevant as other news organizations.

In the world of classical music, creating a brand like this can border on the impossible.  There is a whole lot of quality music writing on blogs, but a great many of these bloggers gain better access through their writing for “normal” publications, online or otherwise (Lisa Hirsch, for example, writes for the very fine San Francisco Classical Voice, but also has one of the most entertaining blogs around, Iron Tongue of Midnight).  In an ideal world, having a popular and well-respected blog (never mind that THIS blog is neither of those) would be enough to be relevant in the cultural scene of a given community.  But I can only imagine that the lack of editorial restrictions is sufficiently disconcerting to arts organizations who fear outright honesty.  The aforementioned Lisa Hirsch touches on this problem in dealing with the website BachTrack.

One of the first concert reviews I wrote at here was about a Kansas City Symphony concert featuring Mahler 1.  The response, small as it was, contained two pertinent thoughts: 1) The first commenter used the name “Laughing at you” and said I was incompetent and 2) the following paragraph was written by a symphony subscriber:

The fact that you would post all of this online shows that you pretty much don’t care what those in higher positions within the musical community here in KC think of you. At least, I’m guessing the Kansas City Symphony trumps the groups listed in your biography. And that’s fine, I suppose. It’s a free world and you can say whatever you want. And hey, maybe you’re too good a player for them. I wouldn’t know since I’m not sure I’ve ever heard you play.

I am not a professional critic, as you can plainly tell.  But isn’t that type of response what real and professional criticism ought to generate on occasion?  Trying to sugarcoat obvious and serious problems in a performance to appease someone other than an editor defeats the whole purpose.  If you’re going to do that, why not just have the Marketing Director of the orchestra write the reviews?

Ultimately, I’ve come to embrace the freedom of just writing at this blog.  Whether or not it generates a lofty number of readers (here’s a hint: it doesn’t), it’s a great outlet for whatever crazy thing is in my head.  And whether or not I am taken seriously as a writer (here’s another hint: I’m fairly certain I’m not), at this point I only have myself to answer to, and even if there’s no money in that, there is at least satisfaction and clarity.  As the great fashion photographer Bill Cunningham said, “You see, if you don’t take money, they can’t tell you what to do, kid.  Money’s the cheapest thing.  Liberty, freedom is the most expensive.”

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