Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Gossip vs. news

So, now that I've berated CNN for its over-emphasis on gossip, it's time for me to come back to Lansing and theater. However, the CNN rant provides a rather nice introduction for my next topic, something I've been thinking on for awhile.

I've been concerned that my column had grown a little too stale. That it was almost a press release service promoting only the news that people wanted to hear. There is a value to that, but a journalist is supposed to do more than just say what people want to hear. If I believe the arts are important--and I do--then I have a responsibility to take them seriously and to write about what is necessary, not just provide an expanded calendar service.

So what should I do differently? Well, I'm still working on that. I'm hoping that the features I've been writing will be a step in the right direction, but I don't pretend to believe that it is an arrival.

What is it that would help support meaningful dialog about the arts in Lansing?

I know what I want to stay away from: gossip.

Gossip is a too easy answer. It may be fun and might even boost readership, but too often it is more harmful than helpful. I like a good gossip session as much as the next person, but I'm not one to put it into anything so permanent as print (or in this case, electronic type).

Sometimes, though, the gossip does point to an underlying issue. For example, awhile ago (and I refuse to say whether it was two years, two months, two weeks, or two days ago, as I really am trying to avoid the gossip element) there was a disagreement among stakeholders in a local group. The disagreement led to fisticuffs.

While the details of that might make for salacious reading, what I find to be of more lasting importance is the issue that led to the fight. It's one that deserves addressing and talking about the pros and cons in a serious fashion.

I'm fairly certain, though, that if I tried to write about it (the issue, not the fight) in my column, most people would want to say little other than the official PR line so as not to make their organization look bad. I understand this, but would like to find a way that we can promote authentic conversations about tough issues. Should the discussions belong only in the back rooms of the organizations? Or would bringing the discussions out to the community create more investment in the ideas and needs of the individual organizations? Would it help people to better understand some of the more subtle (and not so subtle) challenges that organizations face?

Would it matter to people more than what the director of the next show has to say about an individual production?

These aren't rhetorical questions. I have many different answers--some conflicting--but no good hold on what the right answers are.


Anonymous said...

One would first have to ask themselves if the end result (i.e., the physical altercation) was a result of the issues facing the organization or the way in which the discussions played out. That may help decide whether or not the issues are worth discussing. Certainly the physical altercation is not. I applaud your decision not to become involved in gossip as I do your decision to attempt to go beyond the normal fare when it comes to a theater blog. It is never an easy task to sort through the mazes that are sometimes created. Keep it up.

Bridgette Redman said...

Given that I was not an eyewitness, anything I could say becomes by definition hearsay. So yes, I would guess that the way in which the discussions played out was probably a contributing factor.

What I know of the "cause" is merely what I've been told. So perhaps they are issues that can be brought up without tying them to the events that might demonstrate the passion that people have for said events. The trick is finding a way to discuss the issues without pointing fingers at any particular organization. Or perhaps that is being overly cautious. Perhaps it is fair game to mention specific organizations when talking about specific issues.

For example, if the issue is government funding, it would make sense to talk about those organizations that receive it. If it is finding space to perform, then it makes sense to mention those groups that are searching.

However, I'm now rambling away from the topic of gossip vs. newsworthiness.

And really, the topic I started out thinking about was the difference between treating the theater community with enough respect to accord it genuine news status without being just a public relations shill. I get sidetracked easily while blogging.

Anonymous said...

I believe secrecy in a non-profit organization that should belong to its membership is inappropriate. If people are donating their money to an organization to be a member or support the organization, they have a right to know all aspects regarding how that organization is being run. They have a right to see their financial records and how their money is being spent. Secrecy only leads to suspicion, people's imaginations running wild and much misinformation being spread around. An organization run by "the few" soon declines - as it has.