Bloggers, Press, Twitter-spats and Facebook-cliques. Or how to cause offence without really trying

As much as we like to pretend otherwise, the vast majority of blogs are read by not many people. That doesn’t reduce their value. If people are reading what you have to say, and gaining something from it then does it matter if it is 10 people or 10,000. Brand recognition, quality of writing, length of service or knowing how to game google; whatever the reason, there are few sites that hoover up the vast majority of web clicks searching for reviews.

This blog has always been comfortable with its hit count (its not the number of clicks that matters but the number of repeat visitors, ooh-er missus etc etc). And anyone who has bothered to read anything on the site will note that it contains an almost perverse desire to write in a style entirely out-of-keeping with the move to Buzzfeed listicles and short-form content designed to be read through the latest phone gadgetry.

Equally there has been a conscious desire to avoid giving star ratings. The classic 5* rating is a ridiculously unsubtle device for providing a quality rating (assuming equal banding, the difference between a 3* and 4* show could either be 1 or 39 percentage points; hardly an equal assessment of quality) and reading many many blogs, I am convinced that very few would hold true to Gaussian distribution patterns come the end of the year. Other factors do come into play (going to see shows you are more likely to like) but given a theatre review should help people make an informed decision on whether to see a show, it is hardly helpful if everything you see is a 5* classic.

Friends have called me a tough reviewer but that is because I see a lot of ‘good’ shows, and so a 3* rating for me would be indicative of a ‘good’ show. This year I have seen four shows I would definitely have given 5* to, and maybe another two that were on the cusp. However the primary reason this site doesn’t give star ratings is because people should take the time to read what it has taken the writer time to think about and write.

Ultimately its about personal choice. The web is brilliant because it doesn’t constrict you. There are no rules. This site has its own philosophy but it doesn’t seek to impose it on other people.

Yet there is also social convention. And here we get onto more unsure ground. Do we say that conventions do not apply on the web. This ventures into the land of the trolls. Most people feel that conventions, the unsaid rules that govern the functioning of society apply online. They might accept a certain loosening of the rules but we feel there are limits to this. Personal moral codes have no weight online but the majority of people would agree that issuing rape threats to female journalists for having the temerity to express an opinion is beyond the pale.

However these are the extremes. What about the everyday unwritten conventions of the blogging world. They may not matter to everyone, but break them and unleash the hellfire of Twitter upon you. And thanks to The Times, The Daily Mail and assorted publications, the journalist silly season has had the perfect content to bring this into the wider world in the form of the Barbican, the Benedict and the Bard. The preview is a theatrical convention that has held for years. You do not publish a review before press night because press night is the first night. That the media broke this is frankly ludicrous but the fall-out in the blogging community has been substantial and often quite illustrious.

The desire for the most clickbait-y post is understandable. But London theatre bloggers are a tight-knit community and breaking this code was never going to go down well. We are fully aware of the contempt and sneer that the likes of Dominic Cavendish and more ill-informed commentators hold us in. Lets not give them any more ammunition.

So the wonderful folks who have set up Theatre Bloggers (the soon-to-be-far-away Rebecca Felgate, the mysterious West End Wilma and doyenne of the South-East theatre scene, Sammi O’Neill) have come together to produce a set of blogging guidelines. These aren’t rules, they aren’t a charter, you won’t be excluded for not following every single one. Rather they are practical tips if you want your blog to have the veneer of professionalism (and if you don’t want that, then that’s ok too).

And just remember (jazz hands at the ready) – to paraphrase Matron ‘Mamma’ Morton – “when you’re good to theatre bloggers, theatre bloggers’ good to you”

Click here for the blogging guidelines.

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2 thoughts on “Bloggers, Press, Twitter-spats and Facebook-cliques. Or how to cause offence without really trying

  1. I used to star rate primarily as my reviews were part of a theatre aggregation site – similar concept to Rotten Tomatoes for films but on a much smaller scale. When the site ceased to exist I stopped, it was a relief not to have to pigeon-hole and also people have different perceptions as to what the different ratings mean. Three stars should indicate good but to some it indicates average. I generally see plays in preview so as not to be swayed or influenced by reviews but would I rush to a film with a three star rating? Probably not.
    I’ve been thinking about rating again, mainly out of vanity as theatres seem to like them on their websites and marketing material and I’d love to see my name up there (and have more people read my reviews). I’ve had quotes from my reviews tweeted by production companies and theatres but not used on their sites.
    So I’m torn. I’d be interested to hear the perspective of theatre PR’s and whether they prefer reviews with ratings or not.
    Thanks for raising the issue (among other things), it’s been something I’ve been meaning to write about for a while.

    • Thanks for the comment. Interestingly I’d see its probably vanity that stops me using ratings (the desire to make people read what I write!)

      I’m sure theatre PRs would prefer it if we all used star ratings. Makes their job so much easier! And I do admit it might be nice to see my name on a poster.

      I agree with you that a big problem is no shared understanding of what a 3* meeting means. Thing is, if you read enough blogs then you learn how to differentiate. And you also need to read a reviewer for a while to understand what 5* means for them – I.e Billington and Lyn Gardner have very different tastes in types of play, and you kind of need to understand that to understand their ratings.

      All in all, lots of interesting issues…

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