Issue 134 – The Incredible Shrinking Film Critic

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Over 60 film critics have been made redundant in America over the past 4 years. So what’s to blame? Is it the recession, the web, or are critics’ roles becoming redundant? Joe Griffin ponders the future of the film critic.

Like many trends, it began with a few relatively benign drops, before trickling into a stream and becoming a serious concern. It started as far back as 2006 with Kevin Thomas of the LA Times being bought out, but then they started falling like dominos. Even more established critics were shown the door, including Todd McCarthy who had been reviewing films for Variety for over three decades. Eventually, as listed recently by Sean P. Means in the Salt Lake Tribune, 65 critics had been let go (at time of going to press), leading to a lot of empty screening rooms and a lot of worried arts journalists.

Recent events have been less dramatic on this side of the pond, though freelance critics and journalists (including this writer) have seen the demise of some of their employers: In early 2009 alone, two high-profile cultural publications, The Event Guide (to which I contributed) and State ceased their print run. Irish critics are not quite shaking in their boots just yet but when they cast their eyes west they could perhaps be forgiven for worrying a little.

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Stateside, the response to the critic cull has been mixed. Many redundant journalists have taken to the web to bemoan their new status via blogs and opinion columns. This in turn has prompted angry ripostes from other critics, most notably from Salon.com’s Andrew O’Hehir to his fallen brethren: ‘Shut the fuck up and get back to work. If you’re worried that people don’t want to read your movie reviews, what in the name of Jesus Christ crucified makes you think they want to read your bitching and moaning?’
The most popular theory for the recent culling is that they are representative of the print industry, victims of the well-documented rise in web journalism and fall in print ad revenue. Tom Long, film critic with the Detroit News agrees: ‘Actually, it was a bit of both [internet and recession], as well as an age factor. Print journalism in the US went through massive buyouts and layoffs over the past five years. A lot of people who took the buyouts were older, higher-paid and close to retirement already. In many places you work your way up to the title film critic, so a lot of them tended to be senior staffers who fit the buyout profile.’

The full article is printed in Film Ireland magazine, Issue 134.

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