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Blog wars

Don't know about you, but I like to start my day catching up with what's going on in the world in general, the theater world specifically.  I read the Miami Herald, of course, plus the New York Times, and many of the stories on the Broadway Stars, Playbill and American Theater Web sites.  Sometimes I read Arts Journal, a highbrow site about all the arts (though it contains the work of a Philadelphia theater blogger who calls her blog Drama Queen -- and I'm sorry, but cyberspace isn't big enough for the two of us!).  Just kidding, sort of.

Anyhow, I now also read two South Florida theater blogs.  South Florida Theatre Scene is the work of Christopher Jahn, an actor/stage manager/theater pro, who most often uses it to review/recapitulate the work of South Florida's critics.  There are fewer of us doing theater criticism full-time now -- the Sun Sentinel's Jack Zink has passed away, and the Palm Beach Post's Hap Erstein took a buyout -- and Jahn also uses his blog to agitate for more theater coverage.  I'm down with that, but the perfect storm of a horrendous economy and the rapidly shrinking newsroom does not bode well for the return of one critical voice at either paper.  Think freelance critics, because that's the way it's going at more and more newspapers. Some, like Bill Hirschman and Mary Damiano, write knowledgeable, stylish reviews.  Others, not so much. And it's difficult -- for readers and those in the theater community -- to know whether you can trust a paper's reviews when the bylines keep changing.

The other South Florida blog, Theatre Row, is -- how to put it? -- more problematic.  Theatre Row is the work of "senior editor" Gert Rodon (whom I don't know), Rene Rodriguez (not the Herald's movie critic) and others, including a "critic" who goes only by the initials DSP.  The idea behind Theatre Row seems to be "fun" (that word gets used a lot) of the bitchy variety.  There's a weekly Friday gossip item called Blind Spot, in which the scandalous behavior of one or two local theater practitioners is dissected, with the guilty given a pseudonym.  The stories are pretty vile, and until a blog bitchfest broke out recently, people would comment on the items by posting what they thought were the real names of the subjects, thereby tarnishing the reps of both the guilty and the innocent.  Blind Spot will still appear, but now without the guessing game.

Apparently, the besmirched have been asking about the cred of those behind Theatre Row.  Rodon wrote recently, "As for who we ARE and ARE NOT [caps hers].  We have stated ALL that we are going to on the matter. You get nothing more."

Pretty touchy for someone who tied Blind Spot to the tradition of blind items written by greats like Edward R. Murrow, Louella Parsons and Hedda Harper(sic).  Probably Hedda Hopper too (old school things like spelling and grammar aren't high on Theatre Row's list of priorities).

As arts journalism changes at what seems like warp speed, blogging has given journalists, theater pros, really anyone with an interest in the arts the chance to get in on the conversation.  That's a good thing.  But journalistic standards, training and experience do matter.  The blogosphere is like the wild west.  You just have to read enough to figure out whom you can trust.  Or not.