Written for The Collective Review, 4 September 2009
So let’s assume for the moment that print newspapers are, indeed, nearing the end point of a lengthy and unintended suicide at the hands of their own free online content distribution systems. Let’s briefly put aside the alternative theories and concentrate on the one where the presses are silenced and all professional journalism moves online to compete directly with the blogosphere, and with traffic-driven content aggregator/distributors like T5M.com.
What happens to the theatre page in this new order?
Not the most pressing question facing the industry, perhaps, but I’ll leave the pressing questions to the big hitters and stick to my area of interest (I would say ‘expertise’, but apparently I need 10,000 hours’ experience for that).
Theatre is a niche subject. Those of us on the inside can scream and kick at the glass walls all we like, but they’re thick and soundproof and all that wailing about the educative and community-forming power of live performance just doesn’t reach the ears of the general population.
Keeping that fact in mind, consider this: T5M.com is all about the traffic stats. Look up there to the top right of the page and you’ll find a box displaying the ten most viewed posts in the arts channel. You see any of my posts in there, or any of Ben Cooper’s? No. Because only theatre fans are interested in what we have to say, and there aren’t nearly as many theatre fans as Kate Bosworth fans out there.
Consider also that T5M.com operates a revenue-share policy, so while this channel gives me valuable by-line exposure and a platform for airing my views, my only material reward for writing this stuff is half the channel’s ad revenue. Ad revenue is determined by, you guessed it, traffic. By choosing to write about a niche concern like theatre rather than, say, celebrity gossip, I’m effectively capping my own income.
If this is representative of how things are going to work in the journalism industry from now on, then it’s no longer worth anyone’s while to write about theatre – or, for that matter, any minority-interest subject.
Call it social Darwinism if you like, but no print newspaper would get away with excluding coverage of theatre, or folk music, or LGBTQ culture simply on the grounds that the majority aren’t interested, and I don’t think the newsfeeds of the future should be allowed to either.