Friday, November 28, 2008


Roger Ebert has a great piece on the sudden slashing of film critics from newspapers nationwide in favor of even more tabloid-style celebrity "news":

A newspaper film critic is like a canary in a coal mine. When one croaks, get the hell out. The lengthening toll of former film critics acts as a poster child for the self-destruction of American newspapers, which once hoped to be more like the New York Times and now yearn to become more like the National Enquirer. We used to be the town crier. Now we are the neighborhood gossip.

The crowning blow came this week when the once-magisterial Associated Press imposed a 500-word limit on all of its entertainment writers. The 500-word limit applies to reviews, interviews, news stories, trend pieces and "thinkers." Oh, it can be done. But with "Synecdoche, New York?"

The whole article is dead-on and devastating. Now, I'd argue that while the main fault is with the newspapers, there's some other trends responsible as well.

For one, with the fractionalization of media and audiences, movies no longer seem to be at the apex of culture that they held in the 1960's and 1970's. With all major studios under corporate control most downsizing their specialty divisions, and few independent studios still around, it seems harder and harder for serious critics to find serious movies to write about, discover.

For another, the reviews themselves seem more thumbs up/thumbs down (one downside of the Ebert legacy) rather than analysis or discussion that might get a more problematic film an audience.

Then there's the Internet. Not only has it created a proliferation of reviewers all along the professional-to-amateur spectrum, but with sites like Rotten Tomatoes, you can get all the opinions you'd ever want in a click, along with a neat summary and % approval number. I'm not saying that's necessarily a bad thing, but I do think it has impacted some critics' jobs.

The greater problem here is the decline of the daily newspaper. Even where circulation is okay, the new corporate owners and turnovers mean more newsroom cuts, degraded and less experienced reporting, the need to pay for acquisitions after the fact with layoffs even if they end up reducing circulation further.

We're all the poorer for it, and one can only hope that something new and improved shakes out before too long, or we may end up being a blinded society, with no eyes and ears on what's really happening -- inside or outside the movie theaters.

And the only news we'll be left with will be celebrity in nature.

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