Thursday, June 19, 2008

An Interesting Take

I just ran across a post by Donald Munro at ARTicles on live reviews being cut back in the Sacramento Bee. He writes:

A chance comment made by an editor quoted in one of these posts a few weeks ago is still nagging at me. Some readers of the Sacramento Bee were disappointed that an opera review was posted online but didn't run in the print edition. Tom Negrete, the managing editor, said the omission was the result of miscommunication. Still, Negrete says that there will be changes in the paper's review philosophy:

Reviews still will be printed in the paper, he said, particularly of shows with multiple performances.

What he wants to stop are reviews of one-night stands, where a performer or event are long gone by the time the review is published.

On the surface, that sounds perfectly reasonable, right? Why waste space for a performance that won't repeat?

Let's answer that with just two words: sports section.

I admit, I'm closer to the Bee editor's thoughts than Munro's - why tell people about the cool thing they can't see or hear? - and I don't think the sports comparison holds because accounts of one baseball game in a sense advance the next game. You can think of a season as a series of performances.

That said, I'd be sad to see The Times-Picayune stop doing live reviews, and I wish they did more. An concert event is news for the cultural life of the city, just as a city council vote is news for the political life of the city and crimes affect the social life of a city. I'm uncomfortable with seeing an event that draws thousands of people and interests more completely marginalized. Live reviews were also a gateway for me into newspapers, something I cared about in the mass of writing about things I didn't. The reviews suggested that what I cared about mattered, and that others cared to.

But the way live reviews are written contribute to their marginalization. Munro points out how statistic-driven sports stories are, and many live reviews follow the same form, letting recounting the set list substitute for thought. Attempts to recreate the show or to give the review a "you are there" feel are equally unlikely to be effective. Live reviews either need a narrative structure - some drama played out in the night - or an aesthetic bone to chew on. They need something that readers who weren't there can take away besides, "I missed a cool show."

No comments: