GUEST BLOG: Why Saving Original Theater Journalism Matters to Broadway by Matt Britten
When I launched the theater industry newsletter Broadway Briefing about 3 years ago, I sent the first edition out to about 20 friends. I never could have imagined how quickly it would grow — or that I would never get any sleep again! The Briefing now reaches thousands of theater professionals in New York and around the world, including top influencers, award voters, and decision makers.
At Broadway Briefing, we celebrate the Broadway coverage from the theater sites, the New York news outlets, and sources all around the globe. However, after nearly three years of closely following theater news, the problem became clear: theater journalism is dying.
Critic and arts journalist/associate editor of The Stage Mark Shenton wrote a year ago of theater journalism, “As a supposedly niche interest … it is an area that is being subjected to death by a thousand cuts.” In the year since he wrote that, even more cuts have followed, affecting local, national, and global outlets and their theater journalists. You likely have heard about the recent spate of theater journalists leaving — or being forced out of — their posts.
The Briefing did not set out to start a theater news organization, but after a couple of years of reps, reporters, and readers sending us their tips, it seemed that we had one. So, as other organizations cut theater coverage, we moved quickly to launch Broadway News (www.broadway.news), a new home for quality original theater coverage.
Here are some of the principles that guide Broadway News, and why original theater journalism should matter to Broadway:
PUT THE NEWS IN THE SPOTLIGHT
“17 Craziest Patti LuPone Moments” listicles are fun. Millions of fans around the globe are dying to read them and share them. And that’s good for Broadway because it keeps us relevant even to those who aren’t in New York watching our shows.
At the same time, hard news is important too. When tax law changes are made that affect Broadway or legal battles related to new shows are being waged in court, it is important for those things to be reported. The outcomes of these stories affect what shows are produced on Broadway, who produces them, how much they cost, and more.
To many, such reports on the already narrow topic of theater could be considered boring. But to a particular audience, the Broadway industry and those interested in it, they are just the opposite, the most valuable information that is otherwise shrouded in secrecy and not reported on at all.
HIRE TRAINED JOURNALISTS
In order for theater news to be reported fairly and accurately, it is important for it to be reported by trained journalists.
This past fall, we hired Caitlin Huston as editor in chief of Broadway News. Caitlin joined Broadway News after covering startups and initial public offerings at MarketWatch, part of Dow Jones, and working as an editor at The Wall Street Journal. In addition to her business reporting at Dow Jones, Caitlin contributed to the WSJ’s Broadway coverage and helped to launch Broadway coverage at MarketWatch. She began her professional journalism career as a crime reporter.
We were looking for someone with a passion for Broadway, but also someone who would bring an outside eye to the industry, as well as superb reporting chops. Caitlin has proven an excellent leader for Broadway News.
PROTECT INSIGHTFUL CRITICISM
Theater criticism, in particular, has experienced a great number of cuts over the past year. So, it became important to us to provide a platform for critics’ voices to be heard.
We were thrilled to hire Charles Isherwood, a brand name in New York theater criticism. Previously of The New York Times, Charles has continued to critique Broadway in his unique and experienced voice.
It was also important to us to bring new voices to Broadway reviews, and so we were delighted to hire Elizabeth Bradley. Liz has a distinguished background as a theater professor and practitioner, having helmed both the NYU and Carnegie Mellon drama departments.
With Charles and Liz, the tradition of first-class theater criticism lives on with a new home at Broadway News.
ENCOURAGE DIVERSE PERSPECTIVES
One of our more recent efforts has been the launch of the “Views” section of Broadway News. This new section will be home to opinion columns from some of the most important voices in theater journalism, as well as a platform for new talent. The first two columnists are Jeremy Gerard and Janice Simpson.
Jeremy has been a critic, columnist and reporter since 1977, and has held prominent posts at The New York Times, Variety, The Dallas Morning News, New York Magazine, Bloomberg News and Deadline.
Janice directs the Arts & Culture Reporting program at CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism, spent three decades at TIME magazine, and has also served as a staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal.
They are extremely well-sourced theater journalists and their columns will reflect that, weaving their personal perspectives with new insights gleaned from interactions with key players on Broadway.
INSPIRE INDUSTRY INNOVATION
Theater is perpetually considered an industry that is lagging behind the innovation and disruption of others. And while there is reason for hope — new and exciting theater-adjacent businesses are now popping up nearly every day — there will always be a need to hold ourselves and our industry accountable. Real journalism is the best tool to challenge ourselves to look in the mirror and say, “Hey, how can we do better?”
If you’d like to support our effort and help us in the fight to reverse the decline in theater coverage, you can become a Broadway News subscriber today.
This coming Broadway season is going to be as dynamic and fascinating as ever, and Broadway News will be there to go beyond the press releases, providing context and conversation about the questions and challenges that face our industry every day.
Matt Britten is a theatrical entrepreneur, writer, and producer. He created Broadway Briefing, a daily theatrical industry publication. Always seeking to innovate, Matt produced the groundbreaking first-ever app-enabled theatrical experience, BLANK! THE MUSICAL. Among other theatrical projects, he created ODYSSEY, an epic musical retelling of the classic myth. Matt previously served as Creative Director for the theatrical non-profit New York Musical Festival, where he conceived and oversaw the acclaimed “Musicals Live Here” campaign featuring Broadway talent in iconic roles. He also served on the Board of Directors for The Uprising, a New York City non-profit empowering underserved teens. Matt has worked for The Walt Disney Company, Warner Bros. Entertainment, The Weinstein Company, and was educated at Syracuse University, Shakespeare’s Globe, and programs with screenwriting legend Aaron Sorkin and powerhouse producer Arielle Tepper, both fellow Syracuse University alums. Matt has lived and worked in Detroit, Los Angeles, and London, and currently resides in New York City.