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More Media Upheaval, Leibovitz and Watchmen Reviews

by Anne Thompson
March 2, 2009 6:10 AM
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The L.A. media ranks continue to be winnowed. The Media News Group is turning long-time Daily News critic Bob Strauss into an entertainment editor, leaving colleague Sean Means in Salt Lake City (who is keeping track of the declining numbers of film critics) as one of the chain's surviving movie reviewers. At least Strauss has a job. For the moment. The Daily News' film critic Glenn Whipp and TV critic David Kronke are gone. And Media News' Denver Post, which asked its employees to take a week off without pay before March 1, is now the surviving paper in Denver: The Rocky Mountain News published its last edition last week.

It strikes me that many of the surviving critics at metropolitan dailies are bloggers. It may be coincidence, but critic/bloggers are able to make claims for their readership numbers. Bloggers can build measurable fan bases, interact with readers in a more personal way, and demonstrate their strength with online traffic stats. Among the more robust critic/bloggers: Means, The Philadelphia Inquirer's Carrie Rickey, The Oregonian's Shawn Levy and The Boston Globe's Ty Burr. And let's not forget the most aggressive blogger of all: The Chicago Sun-Times' Roger Ebert, who also pays close heed to what's happening in film journalism.

The week before the Oscars, producer Joe Pichirallo threw a book party for his old boss from The Washington Post, former executive editor Leonard Downie Jr., who talked about his Washington-intrigue novel, The Rules of the Game. It was heady indeed to hear the man who took over from Ben Bradley discuss supervising reporting on Watergate, Iran Contra and Oliver North, negotiating with several presidents about national security, and the dire future of the newspaper business. But sadly, he was describing a bygone era. As editors of newspapers worry about covering their overhead with less-lucrative online ads and obsess over traffic, sober news-gathering is losing stature against quick spikes from celebrity gossip.

Recently a number of writers have taken on the thorny subject of where newspapers are heading; Walter Isaacson in Time brings back the suggestion that if ads aren't going to subsidize expensive newsrooms, than readers should pay for high-quality news content, as many Wall Street Journal subscribers do. But firewalls on the internet prevent Google searching and finally, piss people off. This article sums up the subject and points out the pitfalls of charging customers. UPDATE: The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz takes on the failure of newspaper managers to adjust to reality:


"Years ago," says Jeff Jarvis, a blogger who has worked for the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Examiner and the New York Daily News, "why didn't we take more aggressive action and use the power of our megaphone to promote the product and change the organization?" The answer is that newspapers were "a cash cow," he says. "We thought too much about trying to preserve what we had."


KCET addresses the future of newspapers by finding a ray of sunshine in the success of a non-profit online journalism venture, The Voice of San Diego, which has no print edition to publish and distribute and thus uses 70% of its earnings to pay for staff:

On the other hand, it's easier to grow something small from the ground up than it is to downsize a massive organization that has always been in the business of making money from the delivery of newsprint. (The Christian Science Monitor, with less emphasis on advertising, is making the switch to online, although it will still print a weekly edition.) It's very hard to reconfigure a big business into a lean and mean one. For one thing, the people who manage that business are looking to protect themselves. Seattle critic Tim Appelo reminded me of this quote from H.L. Mencken:


"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."


Meanwhile, some online niche sites that are able to keep costs low are succeeding, partly by feeding content to bigger sites in exchange for traffic.

In a web-related move, South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker sold their racy streaming content to Netflix.

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Even folks with plenty of moolah are struggling, it seems, to make ends meet. In case you missed this one, even though she earns some $2 million a year, Vanity Fair photographer Annie Leibovitz has turned to pawning her photos to maintain her luxurious lifestyle. If you want to help her out, her book Annie Leibovitz At Work is on sale at a substantial discount at Amazon.com. UPDATE: The photog's latest VF assignment: the comedians:

Phil Gallo, another Variety staffer set free from full-time employment, bids farewell to his music blog The Set List. I wish him well wherever he takes it.

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Meanwhile, still-employed crickets the Two Bens praise Watchmen on At the Movies, while Anthony Lane buries Zack Snyder's take on the Alan Moore graphic novel in The New Yorker. I'm with Lane:


The problem is that Snyder, following Moore, is so insanely aroused by the look of vengeance, and by the stylized application of physical power, that the film ends up twice as fascistic as the forces it wishes to lampoon. The result is perfectly calibrated for its target group: nobody over twenty-five could take any joy from the savagery that is fleshed out onscreen, just as nobody under eighteen should be allowed to witness it.


[Originally appeared on Variety.com]

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