Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

Entertainment Weekly's Incredible Shrinking Newshole

News
by Sam Adams
April 3, 2014 11:18 AM
4 Comments
  • |

In case Entertainment Weekly canning a veteran critic while seeking out unpaid bloggers isn't depressing enough, Mike D'Angelo has scanned the magazine's movie sections from the past week and its 1998 equivalent and posted them to his blog, and the resultant picture of the publication's, and the industry's, shift is more than a little disheartening.

The movie section's aggregate space has shrunk by a third, from nine pages to six, although it's worth pointing out that a comparison between the relative calm of the first week in April and the blockbuster onslaught of mid-July, whence comes D'Angelo's 1998 sample, isn't entirely precise. But more than that, it's what's on those pages that's worrisome. The space allotted to the lead review has shrunk as well, though not catastrophically: Owen Gleiberman had 800 words to deal with "Armageddon" in 1998; Chris Nashawaty has 650 for "The Raid 2" this week. But read on. In 1998, Gleiberman's review was followed by Lisa Schwarzbaum's 400-word treatment of "Dr. Doolittle"; in 2014, the next feature is "Life Lessons from Jeff Goldblum," a sub-200 word featurette that still manages to take up two thirds of a page. 

EW 1998 has two more longish reviews: 400 words on Vincent Gallo's "Buffalo '66" and 300 on Sherman Alexie's "Smoke Signals," and then a full page (!) interview with "Gone With the Wind's" Olivia de Havilland, flanked by Gleiberman's 200-word sidebar reviewEW 2014 has a confusing charticle and a smattering of shorts, including Chris Nashawaty's 15-word, single-sentence take on "300: Rise of an Empire." (The online version, at least, is longer.)

Disclosure, of a sort: I, like D'Angelo, am a former Entertainment Weekly freelancer, although my association with the magazine was neither long nor deep enough for me to have any personal stake in its future. Although I don't think anything I wrote for them topped 400 words, I'm proud of some of the pieces I wrote, some of which, like a plea to release Richard Lester's "The Bed-Sitting Room" on DVD, I'm amazed I was able to get into a national magazine. I stopped writing for them for a number of reasons, first among them that my editor, Sarah Saffian, left the industry for a career in teaching. (Good call, Sarah.) Contrary to whatever views I might have held at the time about the inner workings of corporate behemoths, Saffian was one of the sharpest, most open-minded editors I've ever worked with; she's the one who gave me the go-ahead on the Lester piece, after all. Her replacement was much less so; the first time we worked together, he took it upon himself to debate the substance of my review -- not the way it was expressed, but my liking for the film, which he evidently liked less than I did. But on top of that, the magazine had recently been redesigned, and the DVD reviews, which were upwards of 200 words when I started writing, had been cut to 125, which was the difference between able to say a few things about a movie and being able to say one thing, max. It's only gotten worse, to the point where there's little point in the magazine employing great critics if they're not going to let them do their jobs. Even the ghost child of Pauline Kael and James Agee couldn't do anything noteworthy with a 15-word slot.

One of the things I loved about writing for Entertainment Weekly was discovering how many of my friends read the magazine, and read it closely enough to notice my byline on the capsule DVD reviews in the back of the book. Being on newsstands in Cleveland was pretty neat, but not neat enough to pump up my waning enthusiasm for attempt to cram insight into an ever-shrinking space. 

My bias in the matter should be evident, but it's hard for me to see how a magazine -- or a website with an ever-thinning print organ attached -- sustains a valuable brand while gutting the content on which it's built. (This issue, by the way, is hardly unique to national outlets; I've watched the same thing happen at my local alt-weekly as well.) If you don't give writers the space to do their jobs, there's no reason to keep them around -- and there's no reason for anyone to keep reading.

News
  • |

4 Comments

  • Ryan Lattanzio | April 3, 2014 8:14 PMReply

    Equally disheartening is the fact that on the same day Gleiberman got the boot, EW "critic" Chris Nashawaty got over 600 words to review "Under the Skin" yet he doesn't even mention the film, or talk about it at all, until the fifth and final graf.

  • LOL | April 3, 2014 5:05 PMReply

    I've been a subscriber since the very beginning of EW. Each issue seems thinner than the last. Hate to say it, but I think I'm done. It's not worth the price anymore. I fear Rolling Stone might be headed down this road, too.

  • md'a | April 3, 2014 3:32 PMReply

    Mark Asch, formerly of The L Magazine, noted in the comments that the '98 section featured two pages of ads, whereas this week's issue has zero. (There was actually another full-page in '98 that I omitted, since I see them as white noise.) That's very likely germane.

    All the same, the difference is incredibly stark. Five reviews in the older issue vs. just one in the current issue—today, films like Buffalo '66 and Smoke Signals would be relegated to Also Playing. Even that section (called The Week in '98) has taken a massive hit, as new releases like Un Air de Famille and I Went Down used to get 150- to 200-word capsules, whereas now 4-6 new films get shoved into capsule form every week at around 50-60 words apiece. (I also hugely prefer the old-school design, with its Impact heds and serif body font, but that's at least an arguable point.)

    Sorry the two issues weren't from the same week, or even time of year—I only saved full copies of certain issues (generally those in which I wrote the lead piece for the Video section), and they're haphazardly filed, so I just grabbed the first old one I came across.

  • Sam Adams | April 3, 2014 4:45 PM

    I was surprised the first time I went on staff at a paper to learn the relationship between ad buys and editorial space was a strictly mechanical one: The paper was 2/3ds ads, which mean if we had two fewer pages of ads, we had to cut a page of edit. I'm fairly confident that if we compared the second week in July this year with your 1998 issue the difference would be about the same, but it's less an issue of how many pages they have than what they do with them.

Email Updates