Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Silenced by the Guardian website (or 'How not to engage with social media')

The Guardian theatre blog currently has an article by Matt Trueman about the recent dispute between the Royal Opera House and blogger Intermezzo. Essentially the ROH got heavy handed over issues relating to the copyright of images and how they were credited, but took entirely the wrong approach by setting their Legal department loose. Trueman's article uses the dispute as an indication of how poor arts organisations can be at engaging with social media and advocates that they need to accept (and embrace) the reality that audiences have voices and are using them. Now here's where it gets interesting...

I posted a response to the article where I suggested it was unfair to criticise the wider arts community on the basis of this incident, which in all likelihood was down to an individual staff member being overzealous. If I may say so myself, it was a pretty reasoned response (you can judge for yourself below) and I gave numerous examples of Scottish theatres who have put mechanisms in place to harness audience views and also detailing instances of the theatrical community being willing to engage directly with our own site here at View From The Stalls. But shortly afterwards it was deleted from the article and replaced with: "This comment has been removed by a moderator. Replies may also be deleted."

I'm afraid I did let the irony of the situation get to me a little and quickly posted another comment: "That's brilliant! Absolutely no idea why my post on this topic has been deleted but I love the irony of what appears to be over excessive moderation on a blog topic about organisations not being willing to give voices/engage with the online world/social media."

A few minutes later, and with absolutely no idea why my contribution could possibly have been deleted, I reposted my original comment:
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Lets try that again...
While the ROH affair is certainly an example of things going badly wrong, I think it's unfair to turn it into a wider criticism of arts company's treatment of social media. In truth it sounds like an individual staff member who has acted without looking at the bigger picture - I suspect if anyone outside their legal department had been consulted things would have been handled differently. I can only speak for Scotland but up here many of our theatres and companies make a genuine effort. For a few years now the Citizens has invited instant responses by text and audience members can leave comments on the website for each show. The Lyceum in Edinburgh has a well developed system of publishing audience reviews on their website - including many from both ends of the spectrum for the brilliantly divisive "The Beggar's Opera". The Tron have quoted our reviews at View From The Stalls in their season's brochure and a few years ago it was their then press officer who approached us to come along and see some of their productions after noticing we hadn't seen any of their recent shows. The Tron also involved the online world in voting for the winner of their Open.Stage writing competition. 'A Play, A Pie & A Pint' at Oran Mor even launched a weekly competition with a bottle of whisky for the ''best" review posted to their website.

And yes, much of this 'interest' in social media is about marketing rather than creating a dialogue, but there are times when it is about getting involved in the conversation. Over the four years we've been running the site we've had some fascinating contributions posted as 'heckles' to our reviews. Matthew Lenton, director of Vanishing Point's "The Beggar's Opera" responded to our review prompting an extensive discussion involving many others; we've had a writer object to what he perceived as our "lack of effort" in understanding his play; the National Theatre of Scotland responded when we questioned their priorities; and we've even had a director and actor falling out over how we had interpreted their show. And from smaller companies, youth and amateur theatre we get a lot of e-mails thanking us for looking beyond the interests of the 'traditional media' and letting us know the value (or otherwise) of our feedback to them.

We've been amazed by how quickly we were accepted as a website worthy of interest, and although we have a policy of declining press tickets they were quickly offered by many theatres/companies. Some departments of the big arts institutions may have some staff members who don't "get it", but my experience is that the vast majority of those working in theatre are more than willing to engage with their audiences through social media.
www.viewfromthestalls.co.uk
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...which was very quickly deleted, along with my post noting the irony of the situation, and I've now had my posting on the site set to pre-moderated! Seriously?

7 Heckles

Waldorf said...

Maybe it was your abuse of the humble apostrophe ;)

Helen Smith said...

Oh wow!

Statler said...

The Guardian moderators have responded to my e-mail query and have indicated it was deleted for breaching one of their Community Standards:

7. We will remove any posts that are obviously commercial or otherwise spam-like. Our aim is that this site should provide a space for people to interact with our content and each other, and we actively discourage commercial entities passing themselves off as individuals, in order to post advertising material or links. This may also apply to people or organisations who frequently post propaganda or external links without adding substantively to the quality of the discussion on guardian.co.uk.

I'm assuming, this means they have viewed the link to View From The Stalls as spam. I would understand if I'd included the link in a post I'd made to a politics/sport/news article (which I wouldn't do) but it hardly seems appropriate to class such a link to a theatre blog relevant to the discussion as spam when included in a comment on an article about theatre and social media. I've asked for clarification on the exact reason and requested they re-instate the posts as I maintain my post doesn't breach the house rules. It's undoubtedly of little real significance and at least it doesn't appear to be an objection to the content of my post, but it just seems a prime illustration of an individual or organisation not handling an aspect of social media/blogging well.

And thanks to weedyspoon who has taken it upon themselves to repost my comment to the Guardian site (where presumably it can now stay as it isn't a post linking to an individual's own website?)

Statler said...

Unfortunately the Guardian website have refused me permission to post our e-mail exchanges, so I'll summarise and rely on them correcting me if they feel I've misrepresented them. Their issue with my comment was, as suspected, the link included to View From The Stalls which they considered to be sufficiently 'spam-like' to merit deletion. I've suggested that it was entirely relevant to include the link and that without it my comments lacked context. A further factor is that as I only post on the theatre blogs and frequently on articles relating to blogs and social media (and basing my comments on personal experience) it's meant that I've regularly included links back to this site - in around half of my posts. The Guardian policy appears to class someone who regularly posts links to their own site as spam, regardless of relevance or content. We've agreed to disagree on the merits of this policy and I've reposted my original comments, minus link, but with additional comment on the Guardian's moderation policy and they have approved it. I now consider the matter closed.

Helen (Citz) said...

What an over-zealous policing of comments! Very disappointing from The Guardian. Thank you for your response and for persevering to get something published. I think your points are very important and we appreciate your defence of companies using social media and interactive ventures.

From the perspective of the Citizens Theatre, we certainly value the opinion of non-professional reviewers massively. Since we've introduced a greater range of feedback channels (web comments, text, cards, FB, Twitter etc...), we've received loads of audience feedback. Whether good or bad, we're just really pleased to see people caring enough to talk about the work on our stage(s).

Anyway, thanks. Keep up the good work.

Helen

Iain Urquhart said...

The white/grey text on black is infuriating and makes my eyes go funny.

I have normal vision but have to resort to the Universal access settings to read this blog!

Waldorf said...

Hi Iain

Sorry you find it difficult to read. It's one of the default blogger templates called minima black which is widely used. We liked it because it's quite clean looking.

Redesigning the blog so it's a bit more 'personal' has been on the to do list for some time now, but time (and lack of design talent) is a factor, so I don't see us changing it in the short term.

If you like reading us despite the layout then can I suggest you use the RSS feed - subscribing to it is a good way of being alerted to new posts. This can be accessed via the Subscribe button which is on every page of the blog, or for your convenience from here.