Movie Critics Disappearing from Newsrooms Across the country, big-city TV and movie critics have been seen as signature players — the kind of visible brands that attract readers to newspapers. But they're disappearing in cities like Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Tampa and even New York. And the nature of criticism may be changing as a result.
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Movie Critics Disappearing from Newsrooms

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Movie Critics Disappearing from Newsrooms

Movie Critics Disappearing from Newsrooms

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

There's a vanishing act going on in newsrooms around the country. A writer at the Salt Lake Tribune has compiled list of 28 movie critics who have disappeared from major news outlet in cities including Atlanta, Denver, New York and Tampa.

We asked NPR's David Folkenflik to figure out where all the critics have gone.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: So let's say you're up for a movie. At this theater in midtown Manhattan there's "Nim's Island," "Persepolis," "Deception." If there were only a way to pick. How to choose?

Ms. GABRIELE COLLIER(ph): Oh, trailers. Trailers on TV, friends telling me that this movies are all right.

Ms. SABRINA SUAREZ(ph): From the trailer.

Ms. MARSHA COMPERA(ph): Advertising trailers.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FOLKENFLIK: Right. That's how. I talked to a couple of dozen people at this big megaplex, and most said pretty much what you just heard there from Gabriele Collier, Sabrina Suarez and Marsha Compera; no one mentioned a critic. The film director Billy Ray says when studios are making trailers for turkeys, they can shop around for a positive blurb.

Mr. BILLY RAY (Film Director): It maybe from chickflicks.com or harrysmovies.com, but people don't look at where the quotes are coming from. They just look at a quote that says exhilarating.

FOLKENFLIK: What happened to the movie critics? It used to be big name reviewers like Jack Matthews set the tone.

Mr. RAY: Newspapers have always had this sort of arrangement with Hollywood that they would run the reviews on the day the movies open, and the readers have been sort of trained to look for the reviews on the day of opening. But now you've got all these people in the Internet - many of them anonymous - somehow get into early screening, write reviews, and they go online.

FOLKENFLIK: Matthews retired a few months ago from the New York Daily News after decades as a critic. He was being steered toward writing more celebrity features. He says two names trump all others in movie reviewing.

Mr. JACK MATTHEWS (Critic): Rottentomatoes.com and metacritc.com.

FOLKENFLIK: The sites compile all the reviews from the pros and, Matthews would argue, from the schmos.

Mr. MATTHEWS: They just steal the thunder of the critic.

FOLKENFLIK: It's not just the thunder that's being stolen; newspaper profits are eroding badly.

Shawn McIntosh is an editor down at the Atlanta Journal Constitution, and her title is - I'm not kidding - the director of culture and change. She says editors are being forced to make tough decisions.

Ms. SHAWN McINTOSH (Atlanta Journal-Constitution): They're very concerned not only about their own personal livelihood but about the role of news in a democracy and the role of a newpaper and a news institution like this in a society.

FOLKENFLIK: Last year the Journal Constitution restructures its entire staff to focus more on the Web site and gave people buyouts to leave. Among them was the lead movie critic. McIntosh said that's a loss, but she says they can use reviews from other papers.

Ms. McINTOSH: We need to have our local news-gathering resources telling the stories for our local readers of our local market.

FOLKENFLIK: You could tell the same story about the fading of newspaper criticism about classical music, dance, or books. But it can make a break a movie.

Billy Ray is the director of the film "Breach." It's a true story character study about a young FBI agent assigned to trap a traitor.

Mr. RAY: I remember very clearly having a conversation with the studio in which I said to them, We have nothing in this movie to hang our hat on except the performances. This is a totally review-driven movie. Nothing blows up. Nobody chases each other with guns. There's no nudity. This is all we've got.

FOLKENFLIK: Ray resisted cutting scenes, saying that would've weakened the actor's performances for the audiences, and for critics.

MR. RAY: I think that's going to be a tougher and tougher argument to make when you're trying to defend your movie in the coming years if there are less critics out there who matter.

FOLKENFLIK: And that's a problem even for Jeffrey Wells, who blogs at HollywoodElsewhere.com.

Mr. JEFFREY WELLS (HollywoodElsewhere.com): It's catastrophic, and it's something that has, I think, diminished the sense of film culture that we all kind of share in.

FOLKENFLIK: And yet we he thinks about criticism online…

Mr. WELLS: In a way it's the best time ever for people who want to write about movies because it's so easy to find their viewpoints.

FOLKENFLIK: Especially from far-flung publications. Wells says the distance has collapsed in another way too as readers post instant and sometimes raucous feedback.

Mr. WELLS: People are much less willing to accept that, you know, lordly wisdom from on high.

FOLKENFLIK: Catastrophe, the golden age, the rabble storming the gates. I got to tell you, the story of the disappearing critic - it makes for a rollercoaster ride. Hey, that would make a pretty good trailer.

David Folkenflik, NPR News.

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