Considering my new career path and the many questions it throws up, especially among journalist/theatre friends, I thought it might be an idea to write a string of articles about PR – as people always seem to have questions! And yes, this is also a bit of shameless self-promotion… 😉
There’s been a lot written about the decline of print journalism and the rise of online journalism, and the little slice that is theatre journalism is no exception – from big-shot critics leaving big papers and writing scathing indictments of the, in their eyes, waning industry (I’m looking at you, Tim Walker) through young, thrusting bloggers with no editorial policy and plenty to prove, there’s a lot been written about the rise of the blog.
But this is old news – blogging was hailed as the death of print journalism before the turn of the last century, and there are now some established voices on the theatre criticism scene whose entire career has been online. According to some we’re now nearing the tail-end of the fight – the dying thrashing of print media, too slow and cumbersome to outmanouever the quick, burn-bring-and-die-young attitude of the blogosphere. But I don’t think that’s true – I think, actually, that we’re all getting smarter.
Because web could never truly compete with print in one field, possibly the most important: notoriety. While Tim Walker’s endless articles decrying web journalism as the first trumpet blast that split the walls of Sodom border on the offensive in their lack of engagement, he does make one very good point – web theatre criticism struggles to be mentioned in the same breath as national print press, and an online review is still seen as inferior to a print piece – take it from the PR who listens to clients talk about this daily! The first throes of this battle were quickly won by the national press’s sheer force of history and ubiquity, and as far as I can see (while there are some new contenders who have managed to make some impact), this is a battle that web hasn’t even come close to winning yet.
But web has an ace in the hole – and it’s something that print journalism can’t fight – and that’s cost. This slow war was always one of attrition, and it’s no news to anyone now that print media is not doing well; it’s just too expensive to print a newspaper these days, and everyone expects their news to be free (or dirt cheap). And now that the blogosphere has entered the fray, been bloodied and survived, it’s getting wiser. It’s becoming entrepreneurial.
Now, I go on about this a lot, but I think this is the most important thing about web journalism to date – publishers have recognised that this is, indeed, an industry that can be profitable as well as a jolly, and there’s numerous ways to achieve this – advertising, affiliate links, ticket discount clubs, etc. This isn’t new (What’s On Stage have been doing it for years), but now everyone’s jumping on the bandwagon – even the smallest blogs are showing fascinating entrepreneurial spirit, selling merchandise (#Stagey West End Wilma tote-bag, anyone?) and advertising space and making this a career. Because this is print journalism’s last bastion, and once that’s over-turned this is the point when the industry splits wide open.
And if you’re a blogger and not thinking about it – you’re missing out on the golden age. Newspapers are waking up, and there are new web editors being hired whose only job is to drive web traffic. MailOnline is becoming one of the best-read sites in the UK, and the sites of papers like The Daily Mirror are seeing vast increases. They will always be bigger and better funded than you, but you can specialise where they have to indulge a wide audience. You have access to exactly the same promotion streams they do. The Huffington Post and Buzzfeed came from SOMEWHERE – and you could too. It really is the age of the entrepreneur again.
Then again, maybe you’re happy with your set up – certainly, it’s not in every print magazine’s interest to go digital, nor every blog to try and wring a couple of pounds out of their readership. One of the most enjoyable sides of my job is meeting a wide variety of journalist and seeing the length and breadth of the industry. But I can’t help but feel a swell of go-get-em-tiger rebellious spirit for the little bloggers showing entrepreneurial spirit – because I find it hard not to believe that they are the future of this industry.