Culture Notes: Vanishing Reviewers

kane22In March two longtime — very longtime — movie reviewers for local newspapers ended their runs. When the Seattle Post-Intelligencer gave up the ghost earlier this month (going to a stripped-down online-only version), it marked the end of a 35-year-plus tenure for William Arnold. (A group of longtime freelance reviewers, including Sean Axmaker and Paula Nechak, also saw a regular gig end; Axmaker, at least, will continue to write for other outlets, including the Parallax View site.) Yesterday marked the last day for Soren Anderson, who spent more than two decades in the Tacoma News Tribune‘s movie-reviewing perch. Soren opted for a severance package in the paper’s third round of layoffs.

The News Tribune is a McClatchy paper. You might recall that in 2006 McClatchy bought the larger Knight Ridder chain in a disastrous multi-billion dollar deal that plunged McClatchy into debt and sent their stock price on its way through the cellar. Ah yes, 2006: the days when the stock market just kept going up and everybody just kept making money and the rivers ran with chocolate sauce and lollipops grew on trees, because that’s the way the world is. The days when an otherwise responsible newspaper company would make such a wrong-headed deal.

Along with its dire implications about the future, this round of layoffs marks the definitive end of an era as far as newspapers and movie reviewers is concerned. Seattle in particular had two long-serving reviewers at the Times and the P-I from the early 1970s until recently; which is to say, writers who were hired to write about movies, not newspaper guys shifted over from another desk (which had been the custom before 1970 or so). The Times‘s John Hartl, whose first Times piece ran in 1966, ended his run in 2001, although he still freelances for the paper, and Arnold came a little later to the P-I. There will never be another era of such long-serving movie reviewers at newspapers (just as such a thing never really existed before 1970 or so, except at the New York Times and a few very big-city newspapers). That chapter exists only in the bubble of the late 20th century, and won’t ever come again. Defining what will come, not merely for people who write about film but for the function of newspapers, is a task people have been thinking about, and failing to solve, for at least the last ten years. Nobody has a clue.