Cultural criticism is a key facet of media journalism and one that is regularly and readily consumed by the general public. Many people make it their business to be educated about the cultural world around them, whether they are seeking a recommendation for an ideal film to see on their Friday night date, whether the new Sue Grafton novel is as page-turning as her previous work, or how their new favorite restaurant has fared upon critical review. Critical reviews are just as consumable as the texts or experiences they document. Many consumers read these reviews and analyses to ensure they make an educated cultural decision. With swift inflation, not everybody can afford to outlay regular cultural expense. Others are interested in comparing their own opinions of the texts with those of the published writers. But what has emerged as the most widely accessed and publicly trafficked medium to write and report through? Many cultural critics are becoming less and less convinced about the predominant origins of their readers. Is the rising storm of online criticism and blogging placing more professional, and better-respected modes of mainstream communications at risk?
As an amateur film and entertainment critic and avid blogger, do I expect as many readers to pass through my blog (amidst thousands of competing critics and blogs) as say listen to the weekly reviews over the radio, or tune into the weekly television slot for At the Movies? Not a chance. I thought I’d ask some of the online community’s leading film bloggers their opinions on the growth of online cultural criticism and how much of their readership is outside of the blogging network. I also thought it would be interesting to investigate the success of promoting ones work over social networking giants like Facebook and Twitter. While certainly not attracting the coverage of mainstream media, many would argue they still possess beneficial means of promoting ones business and widely relaying your cultural opinions and personal agendas.
I spoke to Ryan Helms, an avid and successful film blogger, whose fantastic website, A Life in Equinox, is one of the most respected sources of insightful film knowledge on the Internet. He believes, “Blogging is arguably the most internationally accessible medium by which one can openly discuss varying aspects of their society” but he argues that “it is also the most turbulent and unpredictable.” For a film blogger, to receive 1,000 hits for a single day might seem like a big deal. But compare that to a daily newspaper, which is bought and read by millions of people. The coverage is incomparable. A swift response to the article is only a short click away, which means that bloggers are often subject to angry and malicious rants into empty cyberspace. Alternatively, a dedicated critic may also benefit from a wealth of positive response, which will ultimately prove beneficial for someone working online to hone his or her writing skills.
Someone who reads a review in the paper really has limited means to communicate with the writer. Helms also declared, that “it requires a certain work ethic to establish and maintain a blog that maintains an air of respect among ‘professional’ media outlets.” With plenty of room for error and growth, many cultural bloggers are un-paid, semi-professional writers tackling the vast cyber expanse of the World Wide Web to develop their skills and have their work exposed for evaluation in a public forum. Comparatively, there is often immense pressure on a print or television journalist when faced with a one-shot article. Most film and entertainment critics working under contract with leading editorials also post a copy of their work under the related website, and their opinions are merged into a collaboration for entertainment sites such as Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic. So even if their desired mode of reporting is through print, it is essential they cater for the inevitable growth of online readership. Thomas Caldwell, radio film critic with Triple R and a contributor for The Big Issue agrees, “It is hard to find decent online work that’s not connected to an established source or by somebody who already has a presence in traditional media and sees online as an extension of their profile."
Tom Clift, an emerging film critic from Melbourne and a contributing writer for Row Three and Flickchart agrees, “There still tends to be a certain prestige associated with print media” and “from a writers point of view, there is certainly some amount of pride in seeing your name in print.” Predominantly a working online critic, Tom “turns to blogs and websites for almost all cultural criticism, for two key reasons: convenience and diversity.” There is no debating the wealth of material available online, but the issue is, of course, discerning between the quality of the contributions. Anders Wotzke, a leading Australian film critic, editor-in-chief of Cut Print Review and member of the Online Film Critics Society, argues, “In traditional media, professional standards – a sense of quality control – still apply. For employed print critics, their work is their livelihood, rather than a hobby or a casual job.” Anders also believes that this will change. “As we begin to tame the Internet,” he states, “I’m certain online critics will be just as reputable as those in print, if not more so.” Caldwell also argues, “Traditional media seems to be increasingly disinterested in serious writing about cinema and it’s certainly viewed more as entertaining reporting than cultural criticism” which tends to suggest that the credibility of a high percentage of online criticism is not as low as many believe.
As for the exposure on Social Networking sites like Facebook, I am not yet convinced that there is any benefit to this strategy. It is a great way to keep your acquaintances and regular readers informed about new articles and developments in your work. But in terms of attracting new readers, I have found that many followers will be linked to Facebook, having already followed the site. Twitter makes it so easy to communicate with individuals of similar professional interests, and joining a large online community is an essential way of building recognition within your chosen industry. Most cultural critics will agree that trying a hand in different mediums is helpful to finding an appreciative audience. As Wotzke states: “Unlike in print, where your audience is only as big as the number of copies you print, there is a limitless supply of readers, watchers and listeners waiting online to be reached.” As a motivated hard-working online critic myself, this is great news. The skill-set of the 21st Century cultural critic now requires a diverse portfolio of talents to ensure professional recognition, but amidst the desire to be widely published, the choice of medium to target has presented a conundrum for agents of cultural criticism.
What are your thoughts?