Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Response to Response

Over on ArtsJournal, founder and editor Douglas McLennan has a response to postings by me, Patrick, Brian, and Anne about the Spring for Music best culture blogger contest. I have a response of my own - and also two additional concerns.

The implications of "best English-language culture blogger in North America" took some time to sink in. North America encompasses bilingual Canada, multilingual (but officially English monolingual) United States, and mostly Spanish-speaking Mexico. (Mexico is a multilingual country as well; about 6% of Mexicans speak an indigenous language.) So, about 112 million Mexicans and the 23% of Canadians who are French speakers are effectively excluded - and English-language bloggers elsewhere are also excluded. So much for culture bloggers in the United Kingdom, or those blogging in English but living in Milan or Vienna.

I'm also curious whether there are conflict-of-interest rules for the judges. ArtsJournal blogs are not excluded; one of the judges is the founder and editor of ArtsJournal.

I'm going to bullet-point my objections from the original posting:

  • The impossibility of choosing a "best culture blogger" from the thousands of bloggers who are out there.
  • Utter lack of eligibility rules and categories, beyond "North American, English-language, culture blogger," meaning everyone from junior high school students to professional culture writers can enter and would be competing with each other. This undermines the credibility of the contest.
  • The premise of the first question: zzzzzzz.
  • Popularity-contest aspects: encouragement of campaigns, entries not judged anonymously. 
  • Concerns about what, exactly, I would get from entering. Would it make me more credible with the arts organizations I write about or review?
I own that I summarized it all as "either you take us seriously or you don't." But the more important point might be the extremely mixed signals sent by the contest.

Now, Mr. McLennan asks how you promote arts blogging and help bloggers find larger readerships. I have a few ideas!
  • High-profile sites such as ArtsJournal and individual bloggers such as [boldface name here] can spotlight or link to other culture bloggers both as a regular feature and in the course of normal writing. Does ArtsJournal have a blog dedicated to finding and linking to worthwhile bloggers? This could be the equivalent of Twitter's #ff.
  • Individual bloggers can write about how they promote their blogs and what they've done to increase readership.
  • Make the various directories and blog lists out there better known. I'm thinking of Colin Eatlock's Big List of Classical Bloggers, for example. There must be similar directories for film, TV, jazz, rock, pop, hip-hop, soul, [music style here ad infinitum], food, art, theater, and dance bloggers.
  • If you have to have a competition, consider making it fully adjudicated and a short-list, long-list sort of a competition. I suppose the rounds of 16/8/4 have some of that effect, but the popularity-contest aspects of the S4M contest make me queasy.


Brian said...

Thanks for these very astute comments Lisa. I too had some issues with McLennan's sort-of rebuttal. One of my issues was how often Spring for Music's mission statement touts how important their "highly competitive" process and environment is for the participating orchestras and (by extension) the bloggers in question.

I don't necessarily think that competition is bad in the artistic and cultural fields. But in the context of the mission statement as a whole which goes on about how great Carnegie Hall is (which it is), this "highly competitive" clause read really as a simple disguised reference to NYC. which brings us back to the prompt. McClennan suggests that the prompt wasn't intended seriously, but as a provocation. But reading the mission statement, the subtext seems to be "we're doing something great for the cultural hinterlands because we're NYC and coming here will make all these places better than they currently are."

And furthermore...McLennan tosses off that they weren't really sure what to use for a prompt so just sort of threw out what they went with. In my business of course we believe nothing is ever random. But beyond that, if they really wanted to know what kind of question bloggers might be interested in writing about, rather than taunt them with pseudo-provokational golden oldies, why not JUST ASK SOME OF THEM before putting out the final product. Maybe they did this and maybe they didn't but generally if your not sure about something, it doesn;'t hurt to ask.

Anna L. said...

"Concerns about what, exactly, I would get from entering."

It is equally not clear what would the reading public get out of this. Are we expected to read only the winner, start our reading with the winner, or quote the winner more often than others? Contests need to have a clear goal, and this contest is not so clear.

Contests can be fun, though. Monty Phython contest to summarize Proust in 20 seconds comes to mind. #operaplot contest was as entertaining. What made them fun was total lack of pretentiousness. Had ArtsJournal solicited reviews of the Met's Macbeth with Hampson and Michael written without the use of the letter "m", it might have attracted some zany submissions.

Elaine Fine said...

Ultimately what these people are looking for is publicity for their festival. And THEY have already achieved their goal. Whatever it is that they are paying is a pittance compared to the cost of the exposure that even the most critical bloggery can give them.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I'm not sure if they've gotten what they want. They might get 5,000 additional page views from blog discussions (I doubt much more). That's not worth the coverage the festival already gets in major media outlets, like the Times.

It's also an excellent music festival; last year's programs were extremely well received and apparently much more interesting than your typical orchestral program.