Associated Press Will Only Cover Broadway. Who’s to Blame? Broadway!

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Here’s a little newsflash from our colleagues at the Associated Press, with interpretation by Howard Sherman. Seems like kind of a shocker, right? Here, read this:

In an email, AP chief theater writer Mark Kennedy described the decision…:

“We sent out a survey before the Tonys to the members of our cooperative, asking about their use of our reviews,” he wrote. “While music, books, movies and TV came back positive, the results proved what we have long suspected: Members overwhelmingly are not using our opera, dance or off-Broadway reviews.”

“It’s more than that,” Kennedy continued. “In some cases, they actually resent [that coverage], thinking we can use our resources better. So while we of course will dip into the world of off-Broadway, whether for an occasional review or a story, we have to listen to the people who pay our bills.”

….as news has increasingly shifted online, AP arts coverage is probably more accessible to more people than it has ever been. It appears directly on countless news websites – including NPR’s – without any human effort, as part of a continuous news feed, where it’s not subject to the day-to-day editorial priorities and space limitations that govern a print paper or radio show. Even when editors “don’t use” this coverage, it appears on their sites; in some cases, an AP item may prompt an outlet to do its own story on the same subject.

critics5First, that statement from Kennedy is pathetic; maybe he didn’t know what else to say or maybe he thought a plea for sympathy was in order or who knows what. But in our view it’s pathetic and it’s idiotic and ever so slightly dodging and slippery. Who, for example, are the “members of the cooperative” who “actually resent” coverage of Off-Broadway or opera or dance? Why was the AP’s reporting rubric all about, or only about, or overwhelmingly about New York in the first place? Where were — well, where are the stronger, saner, more educated minds who understand that the nation is incomprehensibly and blessedly vast, that hundreds of thousands of people work in the performing arts and that there is theatre and opera and dance in dozens of cities, large and small, and surely some of it is worth covering. Maybe those who “resented” the coverage resented the fact that the coverage fetishized New York and thereby treated everyone else like poop on a stick? Can you blame them? With their “resentment” they scored one for their team!

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And in terms of “we have to listen to the people who pay our bills” — what a load of mealy-mouthed mush. Maybe some of the “members of the cooperative” are tired of all those AP stories about the Israeli-Arab conflict? Kill them! Maybe some of the “members of the cooperative” are tired of all those AP stories about Obamacare? Kill them! Who endowed these unnamed and untallied “members of the cooperative” such veto power over arts coverage anywhere, at any time, in any place, for any reason? We beg you, dear wizards, to place come out from behind the curtain! We use the word “untallied,” by the way, because Kennedy naturally doesn’t indicate whether we’re talking about one person or 10 people or the population of a small country. Maybe it’s one gnome with lot of attitude.

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And then there’s the blame that the theatre industry has for this — which is why, to some degree, we also have to say so-effin-what to this lovely piece of information. Since there has never been any kind of real, sustained, coordinated effort to persuade the unassailable mandarins of the Tony Awards to include Off-Broadway, why is this really any kind of a shock? Or let’s come at this from another POV: Does anyone remember how, right after 9/11, the newly elected Michael Bloomberg declared that the most important thing on Earth was to get Broadway back on its feet — explicitly leaving both nonprofit and commercial Off-Broadway to wither and suffer on its own?

Because Broadway is all about, is only about and has always ever been about Broadway, for any of us to stand around in total shock with our jaws on the floor about stuff like this is disingenuous at best and a mordant laugh-riot at worst. True, folks, AP could rethink the quality and the quantity of its coverage — yes, Virginia, there are lots of ways of covering theatre beyond a review or a feature; we know at least one blog that is at least thinking about how to do that. But why should the AP bother when so many of the real and widely perceived leaders of the industry are all about Broadway themselves? As ye sow, so shall ye reap. Cry us a river, people. Cry us a river.