Why Syndicating Critics Is a Bad Idea

by Anthony Kaufman
June 2, 2006 7:01 AM
4 Comments
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In an outright lie to the New York Times, exec editor of Village Voice/New Times Michael Lacey denied the notion that the Voice uses a "centralized staff of arts reviewers who would work for the various Voice Media papers." The claim is patently false, as we've seen in the Voice's film pages, and as The Onion's chief film critic Scott Tobias recently noted in a blog comment. Tobias distills the issues relevant to movies fans succinctly in three points (listed below). Maybe Luke Y. Thompson can finally get it into his narcissistic skull why this issue is larger than just him.

Tobias writes:

"I think the die has been cast as far as film criticism for the VV/New Times groups goes, hasn't it? From what I understand, reviews are drawn largely from a "syndication pool" and run in every paper, with little-to-no local perspective. This obviously is a huge blow, and not just because of LYT and the New Times gang. A few other problems come to mind:

1. Having the same review run in all cities doesn't do much of a service to movies and moviegoers, since it doesn't account for the full spectrum of opinions that greet a given film.

2. Critics in smaller cities like The Nashville Scene's Jim Ridley or City Page's Rob Nelson have worked hard to nurture a film culture in their local markets, championing films and venues and festivals that are unique to their city. Readers who pick up their alt-weekly expecting to hear their distinctive voices week after week will not have their guidance.

3. The existence of a "syndication pool" axes freelancers in every city, which means that many young writers trying to cut their teeth in the business will not get an opportunity to do so.

In any case, I see this whole thing going the way of Gannett: The streamlining and slashing of payroll will reap huge profits at first. Then these emasciated McPapers will lose their individual distinction and readership, and those profits will plateau. Then they'll start losing money again.

Does this seem too cynical to you? Maybe I'm just overcompensating because so many of my friends and respected colleagues are involved. I worry for them, to say nothing of the state of published criticism."

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4 Comments

  • hyacinth wilton-jones | June 5, 2006 6:52 AMReply

    Rob Nelson doesn't have a distinctive critical voice -- he's generic and bland.

  • Justine_FilmFatale | June 3, 2006 6:57 AMReply

    Not cynical, Anthony. Realistic.

    What's creepy now is seeing the the same dumbass review running in five newspapers.

    You're right, a newspaper could eventually lose money this way. Editorial budgets will be lower, but the independent cinema bookers, tired of having their "little" movies smacked around by the yobs of the Short Takes column, will pull their print and online ads, or think of more effective places to advertise.

    And this is personal:
    I got my start writing brief reviews for the Village Voice, among other newspapers. When they cut their budget, I got cut off their list of freelancers. It's humbling to see those assignments go to new names - many of whom are interns. Many of whom are damn good. (It's not as though they're getting paid more or less than I was--the rate never went up.)
    http://www.mcnblogs.com/filmfatale/2006/06/critic_gone_audience_gone_too.html

  • Peter Nellhaus | June 2, 2006 11:45 AMReply

    I tried to write for New Times' Denver publication "Westword" back when they first published in 1977 or 1978. The editors refused to even read my stuff as film reviews were to be done by a pal from Cornell, living in NYC. My offer to write an article on the disappearance of downtown Denver movie theaters was rebuffed. They later decided that my idea was newsworthy, only to give the assignment to someone unfamiliar with the theaters, often getting the names wrong.

  • Steve | June 2, 2006 10:05 AMReply

    Can you link to Scott's blog? I can't find this on his site or THE ONION.

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