Eric D. Snider October 17, 2010
The question posed by that headline might be puzzling. Newspapers have been laying off their in-house film critics left and right the last few years, and the job of “newspaper film critic” is becoming something of a curiosity. Those who are still employed publish their reviews online, too, since virtually all newspapers have websites. (Show me a paper that still doesn’t have a website and I’ll show you a paper that will not be around much longer.) Basically, all critics are “Internet critics,” and a chunk of them are also published in print. There really isn’t much distinction between them.
Or so you’d think! Technology may change rapidly, but old business models change slowly. Some of the people involved with making and promoting movies are still — yes, in 2010, still — unsure what to do about the Internet. Just a few weeks ago, Disney decided it didn’t want online critics at advance screenings for You Again, while critics working for print publications and TV shows were welcome. That sort of segregation used to be more common — 20th Century Fox went through a phase of anti-Internet sentiments a few years ago — but it still happens occasionally even now.
It isn’t because there are major differences between print and online critics. Newspaper critics generally aren’t free to use swear words (although the ones who write for alt-weeklies are), while online critics can use whatever potty language they want (although many choose not to). Print critics have space limitations that Internet writers don’t. Then again, newspaper critics also have copy editors and several other layers of gatekeepers, something that very, very few websites have.
The only significant difference is that online critics can (and often will) publish reviews immediately after seeing a movie, while newspapers generally wait until opening day. This makes some studios nervous, and online critics are often reminded not to jump the gun. Most of them comply, and of course the studios are justified in disinviting any critic who doesn’t follow the rules.
But even this distinction between print and online is fading — and it’s because print publications are starting to emulate websites. For example, Roger Ebert’s reviews appear each Friday in the print version of the Chicago Sun-Times, but they go online Wednesday night at midnight. Papers that run their weekend entertainment sections on Thursday likewise will put that content online late Wednesday night. Newspapers realize that if they are going to survive in the Internet Age, they have to move away from the “one edition every 24 hours and that’s it” publication strategy.
Still, there are some superficial differences between newspaper writers and Internet writers. I’ve worked in both worlds (note: the newspaper world is much more likely to fire you) and still have a few friends on both sides, so I’m able to comment.
Newspaper critic: Has a desk at the office, and the desk has a computer, phone, and stapler on it, and the desk is surrounded by other desks at which other writers sit.
Internet critic: Has a desk in his apartment, and the desk has a computer and a can of Pringles on it, and the desk is surrounded by empty cans of Pringles.
Newspaper critic: Lives in constant fear of being laid off as the newspaper industry continues its decline.
Internet critic: Lives in constant fear of being found dead after neighbors report a strange smell.
Newspaper critic: Probably has a college degree of some kind.
Internet critic: Probably has a favorite college football team of some kind.
Newspaper critic: Often required to abbreviate his reviews in print, thus shortchanging readers of his insights.
Internet critic: Has no space limitations, thus shortchanging readers of their time.
Newspaper critic: Still gets a small thrill when he sees his name in print.
Internet critic: Still gets a small thrill when he sees his username cursed in the flamewar he started.
Internet critic: Figures he’s being read because he can see the traffic statistics for his site.
Newspaper critic: Figures he’s being read because he saw a homeless guy using his publication for a blanket on the bus.
Internet critic: Is primarily read by the age group that goes to a lot of movies.
Newspaper critic: Is primarily read by the age group that invented movies.
Categories: No CategoriesTags: Film criticism, Internet, Newspapers