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Staying Critical in the Digital Age

Last night, we went to a panel discussion, hosted by the Canadian Journalism Foundation, titled Arts Journalism: Staying Critical in the Digital Age.

The panel: Taylor, O’Regan, Al-Solaylee and moderator Bronwyn Drainie. Image: courtesy Roger Cullman

Moderated by Bronwyn Drainie, Editor of the Literary Review of Canada, the panel featured Kamal Al-Solaylee, Assistant Professor at Ryerson and former theatre critic at the Globe and Mail, Seamus O’Regan, co-host of CTV’s Canada AM and host of Arts & Minds and The O’Regan Files on Bravo!, and the sharp, witty and spot-on Globe and Mail columnist and feature writer Kate Taylor.

The discussion began with Bronwyn Drainie quoting a gem from THIS piece by New York Times critic A.O. Scott, which offered perspectives from the point of view of both old and new media:

“Where once reasoned debate and knowledgeable evaluation flourished, there are now social networking and marketing algorithms and a nattering gaggle of bloggers.

Or — to turn the picture on its head — a remnant of over-entitled old-media graybeards are fighting a rear-guard action against the democratic forces of the Internet, clinging to threadbare cultural authority in the face of their own obsolescence.”

It’s well worth a read.

We found the ensuing discussion interesting – see a few comments below – but for a much more in-depth report of the evening, including a roundup of thoughts from other blogs, please check out Leah Sandals had to say HERE.

Here are a few brief thoughts from the panelists:

After Seamus O’Regan stated that the discussion would end with far more questions than answers, Bronwyn Drainie began by asking about the role of the critic in a digital world. Has the critic become obsolete?

Kate Taylor: We must put forth a strong critical voice now. There needs to be generational renewal. There is a mistake in the way that criticism is being positioned.

Seamus O’Regan: (Putting a more positive spin on it) But we still have faith in (highly regarded) names and people, we still value the expert opinion.

Kamal Al-Solaylee: We are looking for the authoritative voice. It’s a generational issue, the young don’t value things in the same way and we must work with that.

The consensus was that no, critics are not obsolete since most people regard major media as the influential voice, as opposed to independent bloggers or non-experts.  The voice of authority still wins out.

Bronwyn Drainie noted that an Ipsos Reid poll says that 40% of respondents would heed a critic’s advice.

Kate Taylor: I thought it would be lower, actually. (Other panelists concured.)

Bronwyn Drainie mentioned Douglas Coupland’s observation that we live today in a global way, in an intangible global sphere..

Kate Taylor: (emphatically) Place is very important. That it doesn’t matter is nonsense.

Kamal Al-Solaylee: Today’s youth are able to multitask, but they still live in a place and relate to that place. They understand the power of one-on-one communication.

The panelists discussed the idea of the local versus national vis a vis arts coverage and the way Canada tends to sway Westward, culturally, in line with population growth.

Drainie turned the discussion to blogs, and the value of comments and payment (or lack of it.)

Kate Taylor: The Globe and Mail editors say that if a writer goes in and gets involved, then it raises the level of debate. It’s very useful in terms of engagement.

Kamal Al-Solaylee summed up the discussion by proposing that traditional media will morph into larger-than-life bloggers, suggesting that if  bloggers establish themselves, they will become respected.   Then the money will come…


Well. One can only hope.

One Response to “Staying Critical in the Digital Age”

  1. Bill says:

    I also liked O’Regan’s point about Adam Giambrone’s ‘woman-on-the-side’ spilling all her tweets and text messages from him not to a blog or a web site, but to a traditional media outlet (the Toronto Star). Which led to the whole debate about the ‘legitimacy’ of print vs online and how writers still want to see their stuff on a printed page, and balk a bit at writing original content for the web, which I found very interesting because I do feel this way sometimes, too! It was an interesting night; wish it could have gone on a little longer. (And, yes…Kate Taylor was terrific!)

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