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On Keeping the Riff-Raff Out

December 15, 2011

How can the managers of arts organizations best control who gets press tickets to see their work?

The manager of a theatre company in the Bay Area sent out an interesting email yesterday asking members of the arts journalism community for help in developing a strategy for controlling press ticket allocations.

"We've come to the point where giving a press comp to every blogger or person with a dedicated theatre webpage is no longer feasible," wrote the manager. "I'm trying to come up with some way to easily distinguish between real journalists and other folks for whom reviewing theater is more of a hobby, and I'd like your help."

The manager expressed a problem that I've been hearing from many arts organizations over the last few years as the blogging and tweeting world has expanded and traditional media has shrunk. I was impressed by the manager's reaching out to the media community for advice on this front -- it's testament to the good relationship that exists in the region between journalists and the arts organizations they cover.

The manager's conclusion about how to tackle the issue, however, raised some interesting questions about the difficulty of taking a hard-line approach: "Basically what I've come to is that people who are not directly affiliated with a news source, be it print, online or radio, should not get press comps."

This approach is nice and simple, but problematic. I, for one, don't fit into the manager's desired category for press tickets as a member of the media who is currently on a journalism fellowship at Stanford and taking a break from filing stories and reviews to regular media outlets. This blog and my VoiceBox radio/podcast series are all I'm doing at the moment and both are independent projects.

I was relieved to hear that I am still in the "in crowd": "I consider you a very valid member of the local press," the manager wrote to me when I raised the above point. "I know your work."

So if familiarity with a journalist's work is the main criteria upon which to base a decision about whether or not to give someone press tickets, then the media through which a journalist operates is perhaps less relevant. Of course, a commentator is much more likely to get exposure and recognition in arts circles if he or she contributes to well-known news sources. These still tend to be traditional media entities. It's hard to make a name for yourself as an arts blogger alone.

In short, the problem remains a tricky one for arts organizations to navigate. As colleague of mine eloquently put it in a follow-up email:

"That line between journalists and hobbyists continues to blur. I get that your press comps are limited, but to cut out all non-affiliated writers risks losing some interesting voices from the conversation. To have a blanket policy about who gets in and who doesn't is useful when it comes to explaining why you're not offering tickets for someone, but I'd recommend that your rule have some leniency based on your own review of a writer's work and audience reach."

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