It seems like once a year we talk about a newspaper dumping its theater critic, or dance critic, or book critic, and more recently, their movie critic. Tight budgets are a big part of it, obviously, but you wouldn't cut your entire City Hall reporting staff. There's something about the critic that is now very vulnerable. It's not a new phenomenon, but it does feel like we crossed some kind of threshold, where enough papers dropped one or more of their critics to revisit the question: Do critics matter? Patrick Goldstein takes up that question in the Los Angeles Times:
There was a time when critics were our arbiters of culture, the ultimate interpreters of intellectual discourse. When I was growing up, eager to write about the arts, it was just as important to read Pauline Kael, Frank Rich and Lester Bangs as it was to see a Robert Altman film, a David Mamet play or listen to the latest Elvis Costello album. Critics gave art its context, explained its meaning and guided us to new discoveries.
Those days are long gone, he argues. Blame the web, blame budget cuts, even blame Hollywood. But in the end, will you miss the expert reviewer's informed opinion, or will you even notice when the local paper drops their critic?