The Reviews Are ... Out

I treat movie critics like a ballplayer treats a third-base coach. I usually know what I'm going to do in obvious cases -- of course I'm going to watch "The Simpsons Movie" or "Pan's Labyrinth" without a second thought (and yeah, I'll say it: "Live Free or Die Hard," as well) -- but sometimes I want the judgment of someone with better perspective and more experience when it's a close call like "Goya's Ghosts."

I appreciate the input of Stephen Hunter at the Washington Post, but have learned over the years to wholly ignore the advice of his fellow Postie Desson Thomson (nee Howe). I like Mick LaSalle out in San Fran and once – horrid admission alert – wrote William Arnold out in Seattle to thank him for "getting" Terrence Malick's "The New World." (For the record, he wrote back. Good guy.)

So it was a more than a little disappointing to read the current American Journalism Review, where Jennifer Dorroh pointed out that a lot of local newspapers are cutting their movie critics and reprinting reviews from other reporters at larger papers:

When we crave a movie fix, does it matter whether the film review we read comes from New York, Los Angeles, Chicago or down the street?

A growing number of newspapers are betting that we don't care. Under pressure to increase profits, trim expenses and sharpen their focus on local topics to compete better online, they are jettisoning or shrinking their homegrown movie criticism…

Stephen Gray, managing director for the American Press Institute's Newspaper Next project, which explores how newspapers should position themselves for the future, asks, "Should you cut a sports reporter covering local sports or cut a movie critic? You want to focus on local coverage, where you're doing a local story on a local institution or phenomenon."

Rather than compete with the many reviews available online, he says, "To cut where a zillion other sources are available makes sense."

I'm a movie fan and an old school guy. But I'm also a realist. I can see that in tough times for the newspaper industry, there are few reasons to keep a movie critic over a local reporter, or even a local arts reporter. People can find out how horrible "Who's Your Caddy?" is from a reporter in a different city – and, with the prominence of the Internet Movie Database, a collection of reviews – but you can't cover city hall from India. (Though some have tried.)

The fate of the smaller paper movie reviewers is the same as the fate of the smaller movie theaters themselves. Why keep a two-house movie theater open when people can see the same thing at the mongoplex a mile down the road? Due to cost-cutting, they're becoming a quaint thing of the past. I understand it, but it doesn't mean I have to like it.

I'll just have to get better running the bases.