Thursday, March 5, 2009

Critics now squabbling over how much of their turf remains

There's a bit of a Web battle going on out there amongst movie critics. And the subject is: How many of us are there?

It's a sad state of affairs when we can't even agree over how many of us have lost their jobs, and how many are left.

A little background. For the past two-plus years, Sean Means at the Salt Lake Tribune has kept a definitive list of all the movie critics who have lost their jobs. I've helped him out from time to time with a comment or a heads-up:

Now a new list has emerged that purports to show the number of remaining critics left. David Poland at has compiled a list with 126 names on it, which sounds astonishingly high.

People have jumped on his criteria, noting that he includes some names of people who have been let go in the last couple of months, as well as a whole lot of people who write for Web sites. As my friend Roger Moore at The Orlando Sentinel has noted, there's a big difference between a paid full-time critic who must adhere to professional standards, and some blogger who accepts free junkets and other swag from the studios in exchange for positive reviews. (Yes, it does happen.)

I'm somewhere in the middle of all this debate. I was never a full-time critic, even though I've done movie criticism on a part-time basis throughout my 15-year newspaper career. Now I'm publishing here on the Web, but it doesn't exactly pay the bills. (Last time I checked, my Google AdSense earnings were up to about $4.) I write on a freelance basis for several newspapers in Florida.

It would seem that according to Poland's criteria, I should have a place on his list. But I disagree. For the same reason, I did not ask to be placed on Means' list when I got laid off, since I wrote lots of movie pieces but only occasional reviews for The Indianapolis Star.

Here's the part we hopefully can all get along on: The ranks of critics have been decimated by the downturn in the newspaper industry, and that's bad for us, bad for readers and bad for newspapers.

Update: Already more bad news to add. As my pal Bob Bloom at The Journal & Courier in Lafayette notes, Frank Gabrenya, the longtime movie critic at The Dispatch in Columbus, was part of a group of 45 people let go earlier this week. Sad times never stop.

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