Going backstage at BSR: How do we publish so many writers?

BSR Behind the Scenes: An inside look at our editorial process

4 minute read
Neil, Alaina & Kyle lean on the railing of a 4th-floor roof-deck on a sunny day, the Philly skyline behind them
Shout it from the rooftops: we're a small, hardworking team at BSR! (Photo by Adam Teterus.)

Sometimes, disagreement is what reminds me most powerfully of what I like about BSR and why our editorial process stands out from what’s left of Philly arts and culture coverage.

I thought of this when I saw the Lantern Theater's September production of Molière's Tartuffe, which BSR critic Jill Ivey reviewed. She loved the show, calling it "achingly funny" and praising the director and cast.

I did not agree. I don't think the director trusted the brilliance of the play's language (even in translation), opting instead for exhausting, sweaty overacting that stripped most of the characters of any chemistry, charm, or even logic. The performance got barely a chuckle from me.

So who's right? Me or Jill? Wrong question. The real question is whether both of our opinions are well-founded and engage honestly with the work, understanding its context and intent, and the answer is yes. It turns out that the critic's job is not just to deliver an opinion. We should start conversations, not end them.

How many writers do we have?

If we at BSR were sending out one critic to cover each genre of art (like theater, books, dance, or music), we would be falling far short of our potential to promote cultural conversations. Fortunately, we have quite the roster: so far, in 2023, BSR has published more than 350 articles by 65 different writers (out of a stable of almost 300), all freelancers. There is no "beat" handled by just one person; when you open BSR to read about (for example) an opera or a museum exhibition, you'll encounter one of several possible voices—each one with their own experience, expertise, and credibility.

BSR has only two editors (and a supportive proofreader, Zara Waters). And here's what many people don't know: we are part-timers who each work additional jobs in our field to keep our bills paid. (If anyone wants to change that with some more funding, you know where to find us. Spread the word.) So, how do we keep BSR's calendar running and work with so many writers?

Three things that keep BSR running

First, we communicate with our writers. A LOT. They know our schedule, our format, our coverage, and our editors' needs. We send regular newsletters to the whole crew so everyone is up to date. That open line lets us run a mix of stories: what the editors dream up and assign and what the writers bring to us. There's no way two editors could keep up with all the cultural happenings in a city like Philadelphia (not to mention our coverage of the burbs, Delaware, and South Jersey), but with dozens of dedicated local writers on the case, with whom we have built strong relationships, we exponentially increase our grasp of what's cooking in the arts scene.

Second, we communicate with each other, both on the editorial and admin teams. Since we all work remotely from our home offices, that doesn't only mean a lot of emails, Slack channels, and project management software; it means frequent phone and video calls, working together in collaborative documents and spreadsheets, and taking every chance we can to meet up IRL. It means checking in with each other as human beings and staying aware of our different needs, from medical crises to religious holidays. When you work remotely, you have to consciously invest in your relationship with your colleagues that much more, and that pays off when you tackle complex projects together.

Third, we have good structure. We make our editorial calendar month to month, working to assign stories with a lead time of at least two to four weeks. On Mondays and Tuesdays, I handle most of the week's editing. Each Wednesday, I consider all of the writers' latest pitches, plus following up on other correspondence and scheduling. Kyle is also busy on that day, curating and writing his weekly event guide. I keep batches of writers from different genres handy, and for theater reviews, our biggest coverage area, we have our own monthly system for assignments. For one week in the middle of each month, I focus on scheduling the coming month's stories. This framework is vital to keeping so many voices in the mix.

The work is worth it

It's a lot of work, and we do it on a shoestring. But when BSR covers a huge range of arts happenings with a diverse crew of writers who each bring a unique professional lens, it's worth it. I attend as many arts happenings as I can on the Philly scene, and when one of our writers has a perspective that's different from mine, it just reminds me how lucky we are to all have a voice, and I'm proud to support that voice. With your support, the BSR team will continue our hard work to bring these voices to you.

Want to see Alaina and writer Jill Ivey team up? Join HELP US HELP YOU: A PR Webinar for Artists with the Editors at BSR on Wednesday, December 13. It's free for our Friends, with a suggested $25 donation for everyone else.

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