Central Arbiter, My Ass

Robert Brustein: “I realize the changes at the Times are part of its effort to keep financially afloat when the print media are failing to attract enough readers. And yet, despite its abject bow to cultural illiteracy, The New York Times continues to regard itself as the maker of theatrical standards. The New York Post recently reported an angry encounter between the playwright David Hare (whose The Vertical Hour was recently backhanded by the Times) and the paper’s managing director, Jill Abramson. Hare accused the Times (correctly in my opinion) of having little interest in theatre, and even less in plays. Ms. Abramson allegedly replied, “Listen, it is not our obligation to like or care about the theater. It is our obligation to arbitrate it. We are the central arbiter of taste and culture in the city of New York.”

Much as Sam Tanenhaus corrupted the idea of the New York Times Book Review as a “central arbiter of taste and culture” and litblogs have, to some degree, picked up the slack (although the recent “Fiction in Translation” issue was a welcome aberration), perhaps theatre blogs might do the same for New York. I must confess that I’m not entirely familiar with the Broadway blog scene (this will change soon), but Terry Teachout’s theatrical riffs at About Last Night, Broadway Abridged, Broadway and Me and Off, Off Blogway are some blogs I’ve encountered that come to mind. And, of course, here in my town, nobody can touch Michael Rice’s Cool as Hell Theatre, recently picked up by KQED, for in-depth theatrical coverage (116 podcasts!) of the Bay Area theatre scene.

Some newspapers seem to be going well out of their way to make their positions as arbiter…well, less central.

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