The Daily Planet recently applied for a grant that would allow us to expand our arts coverage, and as part of the application, we were looking to gain the input and support of some of the local venues that would benefit from increased coverage. I wrote to several venues across town, from big to little. I heard back very quickly from the Guthrie Theater, the Walker Art Center, and the Capri Theater—and that’s it.
We were very happy to have the input and support of those organizations, all of which produce great shows that are vital to the Twin Cities’ cultural life. With good reason, the Guthrie and the Walker are two of the best-known venues in town; the Capri, in North Minneapolis (above), is a little more below-the-radar. But where were the other venues, the smaller venues? They missed this opportunity to support a publication that’s actively working to promote their shows.
I don’t think they ignored us out of suspicion or dislike for the Daily Planet (rest assured, I didn’t even try to contact the Chanhassen). I think they’re just understaffed and perhaps disorganized, with no reliable response to publicity inquiries. In some cases the contact pages on their websites featured generic “contact us” web forms, which I guessed—apparently correctly—would dump inquiries into an unmonitored inbox.
This is a challenge all journalists face: getting potential sources to respond to you and help you report stories about them. Obviously in some branches of news reporting, sources may justifiably wonder whether a story will be favorable to them and may be suspicious of reporters for that reason. That could be true in arts reporting, but when it comes to previewing and reviewing shows, in most cases no press is bad press—and some shows get a lot more press than others.
Shows at the Guthrie and the Walker clearly merit the attention they get—but there are also a lot of other great shows at other venues that we’d like to cover too. Some small venues are very helpful and proactive in their dealings with press (I can imagine some of them reading this post and thinking, I’ve sent Jay 84 press releases and he hasn’t written about us even once!), but in general, when it comes to arts publicity, momentum is in favor of the big institutions with the (relatively) big PR budgets.
Small organizations, we’re thrilled to hear from those of you who contact us regularly—and we do try to cover your shows as often as possible. You can help us out by:
- Giving us as much advance notice as possible. An e-mail the day before an event may be helpful for a potential audience member wondering what to do over the weekend, but it’s way too little notice for even online press.
- Keeping your website up-to-date and informative. It doesn’t need to be fancy: just make sure it’s accurate and tells us what we need to know. Links to high-resolution images are great (and much better than e-mailing huge files to us). The Guthrie’s website is a model of informativeness: every show page notes when the show is happening, where it’s happening, and how much tickets cost. You wouldn’t think that would be a lot to ask, but some smaller companies don’t post any of this information—they just send you to third-party ticket-selling websites where you may not know what dates the show is running or how much tickets cost until you get a few steps into the buying process. I understand why third parties are necessary for the ticketing side, but please give us the basics up front!
- Being responsive. No matter how small your organization, decide who’s going to field press queries, and route calls and e-mails his or her way. We want to help you, but we can only do so much without your help.