Critics in Cyber-Space

How are professional reviewers faring in the brave new world of social media and blogging where everyone has an opinion? Charlotte Ryan reports.

Chaired by travel writer Tom Neal Tacker, the panel included the New Yorker’s music writer, Sasha Frere-Jones, Herald Sun food critic, Stephen DownesAlison Croggon from Theatre Notes, Claire Davie from Melbourne Gastronome and Ed Charles, food blogger from Tomato.

Tom Tacker said while everyone can be a critic, not everyone can be a writer.

“Combining the two takes a special skill.”

Sasha Frere-Jones said being paid to write reviews and having the backing of The New Yorker’s resources was what set him apart from a citizen music blogger. 

“There are a huge number of people that have to make sure that what I say is correct.”

Stephen Downes said criticism was the ultimate comparison. He said 35 years of food writing experience meant any dish put in front of him could be easily rated.

“When I walk into a restaurant, the restaurateurs know that I know.”

But Alison Croggon and Claire Davie said blogging had never been a commercial venture for them.

Their respective interests in the theatre and the Melbourne food scene have been the driving force behind their established blogs.

Ms Croggon said she was curious about the future of the industry.

“How can this sudden surge of energy be nurtured and developed?”

“How will it be rewarded and paid for?”

Mr Downes agreed and said the failure of the mainstream media business model was worrying for all journalists.

“There is immense turmoil in the industry and in the next few years, all information is going to be digitalized,” he said.

The panel members spoke about their relationships with their audiences and use of tools like Google Analytics to monitor who is reading their content.  

Mr Frere-Jones said in the past a good review could prompt a reader to buy a CD but now they just download a song.

Finally the critics reviewed the restaurant rating website “Urbanspoon” and travel site “Trip Advisor”.

Mr Charles said the value of these sites lay in the reader’s skill at sifting through the posts to find those that knew what they were talking about. 

Mr Tacker agreed and said about a third of the comments could usually be discounted.