online critics don’t get no respect

Orlando Sentinel critic Roger Moore, at his blog Frankly My Dear, disses online-only and online-mostly critics in a recent post:

I’ve complained for years about the way Rottentomatoes weights its measurements of the pulse of the movie reviewing community, leaning heavily on the self-published members of self-policing, self-puffing online reviewer societies to credential a lot of critic-come-latelies, causing mediocre fanboy friendly fare to earn higher tomatometer “ratings” than worthy films that veteran print critics (professionals) see as worthwhile in ways that suggest a film that will endure past its run at the multiplex.

As the Governing Committee pointed out in an email to Moore, the well-respected reviewer societies for “off-line critics” such as the National Society of Film Critics and the many regional critics’ organizations are also created and policed by their own members. And to suggest that only “veteran print critics” are the “professionals” in the field is disingenuous. There are many online critics who are professional either because they are paid for their criticism by an online outlet (or by print publications for reprints of their reviews), or because they work to high professional standards even if they are “merely” running their own sites (which high traffic and advertising support render professional in the same way that high readership and advertising support render print publications professional), or because they adhere to professional standards regardless of whether they’re actually earning a living from their criticsm. And there are veteran online critics, too, some of whom now have track records of a dozen years, or more.

Moore goes on to reprint in its entirety (at the same link) a Los Angeles Times article by John Horn (which does not appear on the Times’s own site, as far as we could determine). Horn worries about movie-review aggregators, specifically Rotten Tomatoes:

The studios are always searching for new ways to sell movie tickets, and they are now looking to review aggregators such as Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic and newcomer Movie Review Intelligence to generate box-office buzz by amplifying the sound of the critical chorus. As the sites grow more prominent, however, they also are attracting questions about their methodologies, and who exactly qualifies as a film critic in the Internet age?

Horn entirely fails to mention the OFCS as a vetter of Internet film critics, so we wrote to Horn, too, to point out to him that the OFCS has existed since 1997 to counter the idea that anyone with a modem can be a film critic. Horn also dismisses “the little-known Internet critics Rotten Tomatoes includes,” and we suggested that this is wildly unfair to many online film critics (some of whom who are members of the OFCS, and some of whom are not). The overall readership of Time magazine, for instance, gives no indication whatsoever of what percentage of that readership is interested in the movie reviews Time publishes, but any online publication that publishes film reviews can measure precisely the level of interest those film reviews generate… and that interest is, arguably, far greater and far more influential than Time’s, which caters to a general audience. Movie-themed Web sites cater to devoted movie fans, who frequently drive word-of-mouth on new films.

Both Moore and Horn plug the new movie-review aggregator Movie Review Intelligence as one they can get behind, specifically because it excludes those “little-known Internet critics Rotten Tomatoes.” As we also mentioned to Moore and Horn, while we clearly do not dispute that there are many so-called “critics” on the Internet who do not deserve to be taken seriously, lumping all critics working online in with the “fanboys” is a disservice to the clear direction in which film criticism has been heading for years: that is, away from print and onto the Net. Movie Review Intelligence is especially ironic in that it appears to entirely miss the boat in this regard, by ignoring the online-only critics with long histories who are well respected, including many prolific OFCS members.

We also emailed David Gross, the former Hollywood studio exec behind Movie Review Intelligence, to highlight that if his site is striving to offer, as the site itself says, “the most accurate and complete picture of movie reviews possible,” and justifies this contention with research that demonstrates that “81% of moviegoers follow movie reviews in a newspaper, magazine, on television or online,” ignoring one of those key mediums probably doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Ironically, many of the critics Movie Review Intelligence is surveying would not be eligible for membership in the OFCS, because we require that our members write at least 50 feature-length reviews per year, which we consider a bare minimum for a professional working critic. Many of the critics MRI considers worth paying attention to are producing less than one review per week, at word counts that cannot hope to substantially critique a film. We asked: How can such be considered the cream of the critical crop?

We’d have hoped by this point in the development of Internet journalism, online film critics would be getting more respect. Clearly, there’s still a long way to go. Which is a shame, because anyone who writes off online-only film critics is missing some of the best film writing being done today.

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