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Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The New York Times - In Public / Review

Butler wrote this letter. It's well-articulated.

Short version: Kendt and Hunka are both bloggers that are aware of each other, and freelance writers for the New York Times. The Times sent Kendt to review the run, and then decided not to publish the review because the two were considered "colleagues." Butler, the director of In Public, takes issue with this decision as inconsistent with past practice and bad policy.

More thoughts about it can be found here.

There are comments all around for your reading enjoyment.

My question would be: If, in the estimation of the blogging community, this was overstepping and unfair on the part of the Times...when would it be considered a conflict of interest for one person to review another's. Charles Isherwood reviewing a play by Ben Brantley?

I'm dicey on where the line is.

EDIT: I will add that I feel it presents a difficult choice for someone trying to make their way as a voice both critically and creatively. This does force someone who writes for the Times to choose, on some level, between one ambition or another.


Scott Walters said...

This is particularly interesting considering the recent discussion of how bloggers will discuss each other's works. Give the "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all" approach preferred by many of the bloggers, I can understand the NYT's decision.

Jamespeak said...

But where it's hypocritical is that the Times often reviews books written by full-time NY Times writers (i.e., they reviewed Maureen Dowd's book). There's never been a policy that they don't review works by people who've worked for the paper before, so the Times's decision is, I think, a bunch of horse pucky.

Freeman said...

For me, I'm not sure. Honestly, George has established public/private relationships all over the web. It's sort of new terrain...blogger's are "colleagues" with quite a few people.

On the other hand, it's possible that a two-week run of In Public wouldn't have even been on the Times radar if NOT for the blogging and his relationship with them. So, yeah, double edged sword.

Anonymous said...

It's a bit naive, Matt, to think that critics don't have private relationships also with the community they criticise. Even more so to think that doesn't hold even more with PR people and editors, who deal with each other all the time. (Full disclosure: I've worked as an arts journalist and editor with the so-called MSM, even if not for the NYT). It's hardly "new territory", as you claim, and is negotiated with varying degrees of integrity, as it always has been.

Freeman said...

Maybe you're right, Alison, that this has always been negotiated on some level.

What strikes me as "new" here is that Rob and George are both Bloggers, which presents the "standards editor" with a bit of a conundrum, I'm sure. How is the anonymous standards person to discern which bloggers have an outside relationship with the others? How to best ensure an objective review?

This is not a defense of the Times behavior in any way. In fact, it seems like they both sent a reviewer and disallowed the review (not the best practice.) It's simply a question of what we would have preferred. What should the 'standard' be?

Or is it impossible to define, a moving target?

Maybe I'm coming off as more naive than I am, in an effort to keep the question open-ended. I've had two Times reviews and many other plays that went unnoticed by the larger press. I've written reviews for industry and dealt with PR people. I'm rather aware of "how things work." I'm looking to see how we want these things to improve.

Anonymous said...

I just noticed Scott's comment, which seems misplaced: the issue wasn't that Kendt and Hunka were bloggers, but that they were both critics.

It seems to me that George got the rough end of the pineapple in a situation where (as Isaac pointed out) the Times itself was very unclear about its own position.

I don't see any conflict, generally speaking, between the roles of artist and critic. But I think all artists are also critics anyway. I do see that public institutions like the Times have to keep (or at least, be seen to keep) their hands clean. Not that they've done an awfully good job of that the past five years...

In between these theoretical possibilities is a much more complex system of relationships that makes up any community of interest. I think it is wrong to think all these relationships are corrupt. Any artist or critic worth his/her salt, for example, will always place the good of the art above their own narrow self interest. (It's one way to sort the sheep from the goats). Others might be in it simply from naked ambition. Critics for example can make a reputation of sorts by being prepared to write "controversial" reviews that simply trash work without invoking any kind of principle. Artists can stab each other in the back. But my experience of artistic communities also tells me that other things are possible. Mutual respect, for example.

More pertinently, there is a place in public discourse for the critic/artist, and it's an old and honourable place. Some of the greatest critics have been artists as well. Nobody blinks at writers reviewing each other: why the hassle over theatre?

The fact is that a critic's integrity is earned, or not, just as an artist's is: through his/her work.