Blogs offer serious journalism, breaking news, diversity of views and opportunities to connect directly with readers. Not all blogs, of course, and it hasn’t always been this way. For years people have criticized bloggers, claiming that they’re just a bunch of opinionators, not trustworthy sources of information – no one vets their facts or holds them to standards of journalistic practice.
I recently moderated Blog This!, a panel discussion whose purpose was to review how the role of blogging in the art world, by institutions, individuals, and entrepreneurs, has evolved over the past few years and whether it’s finally time to give art bloggers some respect!
Moderator Robin White and Panelists: Kelly Shindler, Paddy Johnson, Barry Hoggard, William Powhida, Ed Winkleman. Video thanks to James Kalm.
Our panelists were chosen because their blogs are well known in the art world, and because they represent a cross section of types. As my museum readers know, even institutional blogs have had to work hard to develop a community of readers and commenters. On the internet it’s not easy to gain the trust of an audience.
Barry Hoggard, who runs the Culture Pundit network and the calendar ArtCat,
Paddy Johnson, publisher, editor and writer of Artfagcity,
William Powhida/williampowhida.com, artist
Kelly Shindler/ founder of the art21 blog (part of the PBS series on twentyfirst century art, Art21;
Edward Winkleman/edwinkleman.blogspot.com, art dealer
This line up had 130 people glued to their seats at X Initiative in Chelsea on January 15th, listening to their favorite bloggers answer questions about their blogging goals, roles, ethics, and efforts to keep things cordial when comments get out of hand.
The panel was sponsored by ArtTable, organized by Heather Darcy Bandhari of Mixed Greens, Lauren Pearson of Art Cycle, and myself.
We asked panelists these questions:
When so many newspapers and magazines are going out of business, or at least cutting back on reviews and criticism, can blogs honorably take up the slack in publishing art journalism and criticism and spread the word about new artists?
Are they trustworthy sources of information? What kind of ethical standards do they have?
How do they fit with other social media services like Facebook and Twitter?
I’ll try to summarize the panelists’ most salient comments.
In response to questions about the trustworthiness of personal blogs vs branded print journalism:
- Ed said – while the purpose of his blog is basically to promote his gallery, if he disrespects his readers (and those are the ones that matter because they are the only people paying attention to you) they’re stop reading. Essentially, your readers keep you honest.
- Barry pointed out that the role of the press should be to question people in power as well as to report on events; when a lot of print and TV journalists in this country don’t ask hard questions you could say they call into question their own ethics; some bloggers have taken up the role of asking hard questions – in the art world and about the news in general
- Since serious writers and critics are migrating to the web, all the panelists agreed that galleries should include blog reviews on artists’ biographies
- Kelly said that on the art21 blog, which focuses on presenting the artist’s voice, they had some issues with whether artists should write about their own work.
In response to questions about commenters and developing community:
- Ed said “if you hit too hard at somebody they never come back so if you’re interested in changing someone’s opinion do it over a series of comments;
- Paddy and Kelly agreed that there’s a lot of self-policing among community of commenters – they start to take care of themselves;
- Kelly pointed out that a little debate strengthens the community
- Still, all of the panelists moderate their comments now, to keep the conversations relatively focused and civil.
In response to the question of how blogs, facebook and twitter work together:
- Paddy said different audiences prefer different tools so a blogger who posts to all three places will be talking to a wider group of people than simply those who read and comment on the blog itself
- Paddy also said these are great ways “to break up the echo chamber of the blogosphere”
- Kelly and William Powhida concurred saying that Twitter and Facebook are a useful interface for promoting the blog and developing other conversations
In response to a question about how to develop a successful blog:
- Ed pointed out that Blogs are measured by traffic – one way to get more readers is to link to other blogs;
- Ed said – find your voice – it’s what makes your blog unique
- I said – write about what you’re passionate about = strong content
- Paddy added – update frequently
- “The central currency on a blog is generosity,” in Ed’s words, “the more generous you are the more comes back to you.” He blogged about the panel, expanding on these topics before and after the panel.
After the panel Jerry Saltz, art critic for New York Magazine, wrote “Excellent panel at ‘X’ last nite on Facebook. His comment that “younger critics should just say what they like/don’t like about works of art,” generated 138 comments and developed into a lively conversation about blogs, journalism, the state of art criticism, whether it’s a conflict of interest or not to accept gallery advertising on a blog about art, and who people’s favorite art writers.
And artist and videographer Jim Kalm wrote “I’ve always loved the whimsical freewheeling give and take of the blogosphere … creating a virtual Exquisite Corpse.” He also posted two videos of the panel discussion for you to check out.
So I would say that blogs, for all their flaws, make a significant contribution to the cultural, intellectual and political conversations that inform our choices and actions every day. Bloggers, keep on bloggin’!