Two interesting contributions to the ongoing bloggers-vs-newspaper-critics debate in the Guardian today, by Peter Bradshaw and Dorian Lynskey — interesting not so much because they advance the debate, but because they show evidence of understanding the nature of the debate in a way that most other contributors from the professional side (*cough*) haven’t managed. To all intents and purposes, Bradshaw even comes out in favour of slapfights:
This paper’s Comment Is Free and Arts & Entertainment sites regularly get a massive reaction to their featured blogs. Many believe readers will offer critics and journalists measured, friendly qualifications to their pieces. They will write: “Mmm, yes, but have you considered …” To which we will reply: “Mmm, yes, you could be right about …” And so a wonderfully civilised post-Blairite conversation will ensue. I wonder. There’s nothing very civilised about a lot of the posting happening now; it’s more like a shouting match-cum-punchup. And that’s why it’s often so entertaining. There is something about the Mmm-yes-but theory of the blog that is quite disquieting. Even if it became a reality, it could result only in hesitant journalism, bland criticism and writing that is predisposed to dull consensus.
The web and blogging have hugely increased the scope for such debates. The critic is finding that the newly empowered bloggers do not share his or her opinions about the new film, play or book, and especially his or her high opinion of him- or herself. So critics must sharpen their wits, clarify their opinions – and, just as importantly, get a sense of humour about themselves.
Lynskey has more reservations — and seems to assume that the rough-and-tumble on the Guardian blogs is representative of all blogs, which I don’t think is true; it’s possible to have extensive, lively, and intelligent discussions, such as those that often take place on Making Light or Whatever — but he still thinks (I think) that, on balance, the web is a good thing:
There is an appetite for genuine debate on the web, but it is often drowned out by the howling of people who seem to regard the very existence of professional critics as an outrageous affront. The subtext is this: anyone can be a critic, so anyone who has the temerity to be paid for the privilege deserves to be put in the stocks.
This is just one front in a wide-ranging battle between the blogosphere and so-called old media. In an ideal world, there should be room for both print critics and online ones, with plenty of overlap between them. Good writing is good writing, wherever it appears. But the campaign is in its early days and there are several years’ worth of grievances to thrash out before a peace treaty can be agreed.
With time and luck, the good will out and the bad will lose the chips from their shoulders; or, failing that, find something better to do with those slow periods at work. Until then, at least, every critic knows that it is always better to be read than ignored. No amount of abuse at the foot of a blog is quite as disheartening as the dread phrase: “Comments (0)”.