Monday, October 26, 2015

NY Tabloids Shrink Theater Coverage

James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson are click-worthy enough
to get their show The Gin Game a full review in the New York Post.
Credit: Joan Marcus
In the past year, several publications and services such as Associated Press and the Village Voice have drastically cut back on their theater and arts coverage. Except for NY-1, TV stations no longer run reviews at all. That disturbing shrinking trend continues. Not even Broadway is safe from this neglect. Both the New York Post and the Daily News, two tabloids losing millions of dollars a year, have reduced their reviews and features of the stage. This strike me as very weird considering Broadway is the single largest tourist attraction in the city, taking in more annually at the box office than all sports franchises combined. But, evidently, reviews are not getting enough clicks on line unless a major movie star is above the title. Years ago, I had thought the Internet would lead to more theater coverage, not less. What we are getting is more unpaid, unprofessional reviews and less major media consideration of the theater. As a result, a major portion of the city and nation's cultural life is being marginalized.

Three weeks ago, the Post started devoting print space to the arts of any kind, including movies, only on Fridays. Columnist Michael Riedel has been cut back from twice to once a week and critic Elisabeth Vincentelli's reviews, which were relatively short to begin with, have been cut down even further. In fact, some are only a few sentences. If a show does not contain the aforementioned click-bait names, it's relegated to a See It or Skip It section occupying one skinny column, even if it's a Broadway attraction. These mini-critiques are so small (hardly 150 words each) they aren't even posted on line. Her editors aren't allowing Vincentelli to write longer versions for the web--which would make sense since digital space is infinite. So as of now some Broadway shows aren't getting any analysis on the web at all and barely more than a squib in print from one of the three major publications in the biggest theatre towns in the world.

So far, two Main Stem productions, Fool for Love and Dames at Sea have received this dismissive treatment from the Post. Old Times with Clive Owen and The Gin Game with James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson are starry enough to merit fuller consideration, but both were posted online on the day after they opened instead of just hours after the official press blockage was lifted (previously the Post's usual practice, still employed by all the other outlets.)

The Daily News still delivers Joe Dziemianowicz's full reviews of Broadway and Off-Broadway, but online only. The print edition no longer runs theater, film, or TV critiques. Riding home on the subway a few nights ago, a fellow critic told me about a friend of his in her 70s. The woman had always subscribed to the News, disdaining the Times' huge, unwieldy format. She hates computers and has never gone online in her life. Now her favorite newspaper is a shadow of its former self, lacking all print arts stories, and she doesn't want to learn how to use the new fangled computers. She may have to break down and start putting up with folding the Times.

The sad thing is no one seems to be paying attention. The only notice this disturbing trend of the tabloids'  diminishing theater coverage got was a column by Jeremy Gerard in Deadline. Perhaps some readers are complaining, like my colleague's friend, but it's probably falling on deaf ears. The media moguls are too busy listening to the cyber buzz.

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