Variety laid off two of its top critics – Todd McCarthy, chief film critic, and David Rooney, its chief theatre critic – Monday, as the trade paper continues to shift its editorial structure. They were asked to continue writing for Variety as freelancers.
McCarthy is one of its most best-known writers, so the news percolated across the web. Variety president Neil Stiles told the Times the firings were an “economic reality.” Editor Tim grey said in a memo published on Poynter.org:
Today’s changes won’t be noticed by readers. Our goal is the same: To maintain, or improve, our quality coverage. But internally, we hope the changes — which will include several new hires coming aboard — will make things more streamlined and efficient, will eliminate unnecessary work, and will increase coordination and communication in the newsroom.
As stated in the release, Variety will not be changing its review policy. It will continue to run more than 1,200 film reviews a year, but they won’t be written by full-time critics. “It doesn’t make economic sense to have full-time reviewers,” grey said.
According to Variety, the publication is still profitable, with paid subscriptions from industry movers and shakers.
Yet, they have tough competition from entertainments sites all over the web, not to mention user-generated critiques and aggregated reviews on web spots like Rotten Tomatoes. And of course, younger readers are looking on Facebook and Twitter to find out what their friends think about movies. Some simply don’t care to hear what professional reviewers think about Avatar or The Hurt Locker.
So it may make better “economic sense” for Variety to put more money toward their news reporters and split up fat paychecks for long-time reviewers to freelancers who can churn out more pieces.
But Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert wonders if Variety’s quality will be diluted without their star reviewers. “[I]f they made such a drastic decision, we are invited to wonder if Variety itself will long survive,” he wrote.
McCarthy told The Wrap that it feels more like the end of an era: “It’s sad. It’s the end of something. You can say it’s the end-the end, or you can say it’s the end of the way it’s always been done. It’s the end of me.”
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