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Sean Daly, Michelle Stark and Sharon Kennedy Wynne

Creative Loafing film critic laid off

14

August

Creativeloafingcover9202006 Usually, you can count on alternative newsweeklies for two things: in-depth coverage of the local arts scene and snarky columns anytime the local daily makes a boneheaded move.

But Tampa's alt-weekly Creative Loafing is putting both mainstays at risk following news that on Wednesday it laid off its film critic of 19 years, Lance Goldenberg -- who tells me he was never hired as a full-time staffer in his years there.

What's that you say? Shouldn't alternative weeklies offer the kind of detailed coverage of local film communities that big daily newspapers can't match? Shouldn't they take a lesson from the way big newspapers have struggled to offer unique film stories after laying off their critics?

You would think so. But at a time when just about every newspaper in the country is laying off staff, few decisions seem surprising, anymore. I first found out about Lance's departure from area writer Philip Booth, who summed up my thoughts pretty well on his own blog here.

"It was certainly a shock and huge disappointment," Goldenberg said. "Obviously, they've got other things in mind for film coverage."

CL editor David Warner said that, even though financial issues forced him to cut Goldenberg's column, film coverage will not suffer because he is committed to continuing it and they have access to other award-winning critics who work for the chain. Here is a blog from the editor of CL's Atlanta paper, expressing remorse over two layoffs in their newsroom which he notes "seemed to me not the wisest business decision."

"I was faced with having to make significant budget cuts this year (and) none of the options were pleasant," said Warner, who noted that Goldenberg once had turned down an offer to join CL's staff some time ago. The editor also said there may be other cost-cutting measures revealed next week, though he couldn't be specific until details were finalized.

"I was paying close to, or what I would be paying a full-time staffer, but not getting the benefits of a full time staffer – someone who was here in the office, contributing in other ways beyond what he did do," Warner added. "In this one situation, I thought that there were resources already in the company that could cover a national medium like this from wherever they are."

Much as I like and respect CL and staffers such as Warner, Wayne Garcia and Eric Snider, I have often wished the newspaper could be a little more feisty, a little more sophisticated and a little better in covering arts locally and nationally. I hope that goal won't be tougher to reach lacking a local film critic.

Click below to see a full statement from Warner (Goldenberg has asked that his original email announcement of his departure be taken down):

Re: Film coverage at Creative Loafing
From: David Warner, Editor
The news that Lance Goldenberg will no longer be our weekly movie critic come September has been greeted with alarm in some quarters.

The alarm is understandable. Lance has been a reliably expert voice on film in Tampa Bay, one with an engaging writing style and a clear love for the medium.

However, Creative Loafing must deal with the fiscal realities that are facing everyone in the newspaper business. We have to find ways to economize while still bringing high-quality coverage to our readers.

As it happens, CL’s recent purchase of newspapers in Chicago and Washington, D.C. has expanded our access to talented writers and editors. Among them is J.R. Jones, an award-winning, nationally recognized critic who has been the chief film reviewer for the Chicago Reader for 11 years. Like Lance Goldenberg, he has a strong, distinctive voice and a deep knowledge of film. Unlike Lance, who was a freelance reviewer throughout his time with Creative Loafing, J.R. is a full-time staffer at the Reader, which means his reviews are available to other Creative Loafing papers either free of charge or at a substantial reduction in expense.

We expect that with J.R.’s reviews, plus reviews by other CL critics and writers in Atlanta, Charlotte and Washington, we will be able to review more rather than fewer movies than we were able to do with one freelance writer.

In addition, we remain fiercely committed to reviewing and reporting on the local film scene and the many film festivals Creative Loafing has always covered in depth. Staff knowledge and enthusiasm for film is deep, and we as a paper believe in the importance of a thriving film scene to Tampa Bay’s cultural life.

We’re sorry that the relationship with Lance is coming to an end. But we’re excited about the new and expanded possibilities that have opened up to us.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:50pm]

    

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