Every year the Fringe Society organises an event called Meet The Media for participating companies seeking coverage of their shows. Broadway Baby has supported the event every year since its inception, but this year we will not be there. And here’s why.
Someone, somewhere, has to start just saying NO
In an open letter to the Fringe Society, the Live Comedy Association raised a number of concerns about this year’s festival, including support for the media. In her response, Fringe chief, Shona McCarthy, stated "This summer we are supporting critics from The Times, The Guardian, The Daily Mail, The Evening Standard, I-newspaper, Beyond the Joke, The Stage, The Observer and The Sunday Times with accommodation in the city." The vast majority of these publications are national newspapers who have had minimal, if any, representation at Meet The Media. We feel this bias snubs the specialist Fringe media that have committed a large amount of time and resources to attend the event.
We informed the Fringe Society of our concerns and that we would not be participating this year. Susan Russell, Head of Communications at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe replied “This summer we've been able to offer some limited accommodation to reviewers to support some requests we received as far back as March. It's been very much on request, and hasn't to date been something we've publicly advertised, as the provision is fairly small (one property).”
“From the interest we've had since the publication of the open letter, it's likely we'll need to form a process for this for 2023 and beyond. This will make it more of a formal application process based on number of nights required, and level of coverage. We'd honestly love to do more, but unfortunately don't have the financial resource at this time. The new development goals which were launched last month as part of our future vision, do set out accommodation as some key areas for progression. While this won't help this August, we'll be working with city partners to try to expand on this going forward.”
For us here at Broadway Baby, this raises more questions as to the Society’s approach. Yes, spiralling accommodation costs during August makes it more and more difficult for critics outside of Edinburgh to attend. Is the solution for the Society to rent a multi-bedroom house and quietly fill it with selected journalists? We don’t think so. That’s too much investment in a few people, leaving no support for others. It's especially irksome when those few happen to be from multi-million pound companies who see the Edinburgh Festival Fringe as a low priority. Unless it's a freebie.
Ideally accommodation should be affordable for everyone. The costs of staying in Edinburgh during the festival have always been high, but as the Fringe has grown, so has the demand for places to stay – driving up prices in a suppliers’ market. This is not the Society’s fault, to be fair. It’s the landlords who see an opportunity to make a year’s worth of rent in one month. But this is where the Society can use their influence, working with the city council and Scottish government to bring fair rents to the festival. We acknowlege the Fringe Society has been working with Edinburgh's universities to find artists affordable rooms, but much more needs to be done in this area.
If the Society go ahead next year with a formalised process in which publications can apply for a bedroom in the Society’s media property, it should be fully transparent so we can all scrutinise how they are spending participating theatre companies’ money. If The Guardian is given a room, how many reviews does that buy the Fringe? And do they have to give the money back if their editor decides there isn’t enough room to run it that day? You see how this approach can quickly become unmanageable.
It was a difficult decision for us not to attend Meet The Media, as we fully appreciate how useful it is for visiting companies. But as Kate Copstick told me when we were considering our response, “Someone, somewhere, has to start just saying NO.”