Does each newspaper need its own critics?


If you haven’t already heard, Chicago Tribune television critic Maureen Ryan has left the Trib to work for AOL Television. 

Robert Feder talked to Maureen and extracted some expected information. For instance:

As much as she loved her job, Ryan admits she’d been growing increasingly frustrated at the space constraints of print. Her diminished profile in the newspaper reflected a trend that’s seen the role of TV critics reduced or eliminated entirely across the country in recent years.

Yes, print indeed allows for much less space for everything and I can attest to this being frustrating for the writer. I’ll probably never forget sending in my coverage of Sarah Palin speaking in Chicago and finding that they didn’t edit out a single word. Why? Because it only appeared online. I’ll also never forget sending in my coverage of suburban city council meetings to the Tribune and finding entire paragraphs gone. Why? Those were for print first, online only as an afterthought. 

Journalists, is this not another reason to love and embrace digital? We love our words and this medium can carry so many more of them.

In fact, I don’t understand why newspapers can’t publish a tightly edited version of something in print and then allow the entire text online. Let the reader choose which version they prefer. But I digress…

The most compelling part of Feder’s post for me was this line from Ryan:

“I’d be surprised if the Tribune filled my position. That fact may be a reality of the newspaper business, but it makes me kind of sad. I think a vibrant urban newspaper needs its own set of local columnists and critics — and of course, the Tribune still has many of those, thank goodness.

Is that really true? Does each newspaper need its own critic for, say, television? Was there something uniquely Chicago about the way Ryan wrote about Lost or The Sopranos? I admit to not being familiar enough with her work to answer that question. Obviously someone like a restaurant critic must be a local so that she may comment on the dining scene as a whole, be available for new openings, etc. But a TV critic?

In general, does it make sense for newspapers to spend the money on their own TV critic, movie critic, or other such roles? Jeff Jarvis, myself and I’m sure many others don’t think so

What do you think?


  1. Anonymous August 19, 2010

    First, I agree with you on why can’t newspapers do a tight edit for print & a full column for online. I would love to have both & make up my own mind. If I have a subscription, I’d want that. To me, it would show the paper cared enough about me & my money to give me options.

    Second, we do need a Chicago TV critic because sometimes, what they’re watching in NY-LA is completely different than what we watch in Chicago or the Midwest. Chicago is always left out of the TV/movie openings. When is the last time Chicago got a major movie opening? When was the last time there was one in Peoria? Maybe if the star has it written in their contract they’ll promote the movie IF they can open the movie in Chicago. Otherwise, it’s ALWAYS New York or LA.

    And if the NBC/CBS/ABC send their reporters to Haiti or some war torn country, why to the local TV stations/newspapers send their own? Is there a difference? Yes! People can relate to the reporter telling the story. They have someone’s opinion they’ve been listening to & someone column they’ve been reading.

    I’m going to be watching to see if the Trib replaces Mo and see if I like their style of writing TV criticisms.

  2. Anna Tarkov August 19, 2010

    Thanks for the comment, these are some good thoughts.

    Yes, it’s unfortunate that Chicago is not the entertainment center that NYC or LA is. But Mo has been writing here for many, many years and has apparently been widely read and respected. Has her presence here brought more movie or TV premieres to Chicago? I see no direct correlation between the two.

    As for local reporters going to cover major stories, sending TV people vs. sending print people are two very different matters. Sending TV people makes sense for the reasons you mentioned, but sending print people only makes sense if they are going to somehow put the story in a local context. That’s why you don’t see bylines from the Chicago newsrooms in many Nation/World stories.

    As an aside, many people like myself:

    1) Don’t watch TV news
    2) Don’t have favorite columnists/writers; we have dozens of favorites if not more
    3) Read blogs which summarize the views/coverage of many different voices so we don’t have to rely on one and we prefer not to anyway
    4) Don’t count on the newspapers to bundle our content for us; we pick and choose on our own.

    We may be in the minority for now, but I can assure you that our ranks are growing.

  3. Anonymous August 20, 2010

    We do need someone to cover entertainment in Chicago locally because apparently, we’re good enough to have enough theaters to train the talent that ends up on the big screens & the small ones. Hady Grimble (not sure of the name) on WTTW does do a decent job of covering the local talent/entertainment but I feel there’s more than enough space for print/local TV/blogs.

    A local reviewer or two is needed for people who have families, don’t have the time to look at every single thing & don’t have time to ask their families & friends what’s good. If they can find one, two or three entertainment columnists/bloggers they can rely on for a decent review, they’re off to the movies/plays/internet to do it.

    And yes, the ranks of bloggers is growing because the landscape of print & internet is changing every second. Before I can post this comment, 10 more people have started new blogs! LOL!!

  4. Anna Tarkov August 20, 2010

    Ok., but now we’re talking about something entirely different. Now we’re talking about local entertainment coverage which is absolutely valuable and needed. We’re talking about coverage of local theaters, local filmmakers, local actors, local comedians, local bands, etc. That’s entirely different from writing about a television show that everyone in America is able to watch. No matter how competently or compellingly one is able to write about such shows, they do not require a local focus. And if they do, some blogger is likely going to do it better and with more passion. The only problem is that this imaginary blogger isn’t writing under a Chicago Tribune masthead or on the Chicago Tribune website and so no one knows about him/her except the 200 people who read their blog. That dilemma gets us to another set of problems which are off the topic of this discussion :-)

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