Scott Stanford: Not every newspaper can be a critic
December 21, 2006
We have been criticized recently for our lack of arts coverage, specifically our lack of reviews.
I respect the criticism. Truth is, there isn’t an area of the newspaper where we could not do more and do it better. I think we need more sports, business, entertainment, education, real estate and other coverage. I have no beef with those who say we are not doing enough. We can and should provide more arts and entertainment coverage.
But I have to be honest – adding staff-written reviews of local performances and performers isn’t a priority. Here’s why:
Reviews in a community our size often are a Catch-22. Is it fair to criticize a performance by a mostly amateur cast who worked incredibly hard for no pay to put together a community production? Worse, do we undermine our credibility by saying a show that was mediocre at best was good simply because a mostly amateur cast worked incredibly hard for no pay to put together a community production?
Also, my staff generally isn’t qualified to offer criticism on many of the shows here. I’m sure professional cellist John Sant’Ambrogio’s performance with the Steamboat Springs Orchestra was amazing. But the truth is, no one at the Pilot & Today could differentiate between Sant’Ambrogio and Mstislav Rostropovich or Yo Yo Ma. In such a context, it’s hard to provide thoughtful commentary.
I once worked for a newspaper where we did reviews of local performances. We had a gifted staff member who had written and produced plays professionally. He was well-qualified to review community theater productions.
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But he was under immense pressure to, for lack of a better word, be nice. He once offered the rather mild criticism that an actress could have been a little more convincing in her character. The woman responded by appearing at the newspaper, in tears, to rip the writer. How dare he criticize her after all of the hard work she put in?
The writer was right, but so was the actress. We made the decision soon after to stop reviewing performances by local theater groups, schools and musicians. We occasionally would review professional shows, but the volunteering writer almost always was a fan who wouldn’t write a critical word. These pieces rarely enlightened readers.
I have great respect for Steamboat’s arts community, and I think it is terrific that local artists offer us such a variety of theater, art and music performances – much more than most. I have been to countless dance, theater and school productions here. In general, I can maintain perspective. I go to these shows because I enjoy seeing people I know stretch themselves onstage. Truth is, I go to local sports events for the same reason.
Our newspaper is not review-free. Our staff members review music CDs and we run reviews from professional movie critics. (Note: We have been criticized in the past for running unfavorable reviews of movies playing locally.) As appropriate, we will sometimes review professional concerts and shows.
But the best way the newspaper can support our community of artists is to promote their events in advance. Tell readers what they are, when they are, where they are and how much they cost. We profile artists, musicians, singers, dancers and actors weekly in our 4 Points section. We promote their events in Happenings and our other calendars.
I would not be opposed to considering outside reviews of local shows. I have no doubt that there are residents in our community who do have the experience and background to comment fairly and thoughtfully on the local arts scene. If you’d like to submit something for my consideration, or if you have other thoughts about ways the newspaper can improve its arts coverage, please call or e-mail me.
Scott Stanford’s From the Editor column appears Thursdays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4221 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org