Can Anyone Be a Critic? And Would Anybody Answer No Who Isn't Getting Paid to Do It Already?
I was trolling through Jim Romenesko's Media News site this morning, when I stumbled on a piece which nearly made my coffee come out my nose.
The item at hand was a column by Time magazine film critic Richard Schickel, in which the accomplished and amazing writer made the most high-handed justification for keeping professional critics employed in journalism that I have ever seen.
A sample: "Criticism — and its humble cousin, reviewing — is not a democratic activity. It is, or should be, an elite enterprise, ideally undertaken by individuals who bring something to the party beyond their hasty, instinctive opinions of a book (or any other cultural object). It is work that requires disciplined taste, historical and theoretical knowledge and a fairly deep sense of the author's (or filmmaker's or painter's) entire body of work, among other qualities."
I do agree that good criticism does go beyond saying whether you liked something or don't. And I also agree that such work often requires people who know the history of the medium and have a discerning taste.
But the elusive aspect of covering pop culture is always the "pop" part of the equation. The fact is, some people instinctively have compelling and insteresting takes on why mass entertainment works the way it does. And not all those people are lucky enough to have jobs in which they are paid to put their opinions into print.
I know I'm flirting with my own disaster by articulating this point of view. Already, the newspaper industry has signaled its willingness to disregard the experience and expertise of seasoned critics at places such as the Dallas Morning News, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Indianapolis Star and yes, our competitor across the bay, the Tampa Tribune.
But I've viewed many of those decisions as a failure of imagination -- either on the critic's part or his/her manager. Some of the most exciting stories in pop culture are accessible through the critic's work. If they are not surfacing regularly, then somebody -- editor or critic -- isn't doing their job well.
You don't see newspapers eliminating their cops reporting beat because someone takes on the job who doesn't do it well -- or someone sits in the job so long they get stale. You find ways to shake up the beat, so that the good stories start flowing again.
At a time when critics experienced as the Tribune's Bob Ross are losing their newspaper jobs, I understand Schickel's motivation to point out how much better a great film critic is from the countless bloggers with little experience or taste. Still, the bloggers vs. print journalists debate is a worn one; the real question is how do critics stay fresh and impactful enough that news managers won't even consider kicking them off the staff?
When I give speeches on the subject, I've always told people I have one real qualification for being a critic at the St. Petersburg Times. I convinced the newspaper's management to pay me to do it.
I try to accomplish that anew every day. It may not help me keep my job, but it does highlight a much less snooty reason for my continued employment.
Why Is MSNBC Obsessed With Car Crashes and Troubled Planes?
I spent long minutes this afternoon watching continuous coverage by MSNBC of a plane with faulty landing gear attempting an emergency landing at a Davis Island airport. Not even local affilaites cut into their daytime programming to for a play-by-play of the struggling twin-engine Cessna, which eventually landed safely with two seemingly uninjured passengers.
But MSNBC had two experts watching the decent with an anchor and an unarticulated possiblity hanging in the background: What if they crash? (a fellow editor here sez CNN also offered live coverage, though I'm pretty sure they were covering other stories right before the landing)
Given that it wasn't a major airliner with hundreds of lives at stake, it seemed prudent to do what competitors did and wait for the plane to land, then report quickly on the aftermath. (a pal suggests NBC was trying to scoop ABC in case the plane crashed in the Extreme Makeover house there in Tampa)
As I write this, MSNBC is showing a slow motion car chase involving a suspect who police are pursuing for failure to yield.
When did MSNBC turn into the "dramatic police footage which means nothing to you" channel?