Where have all the critics gone?

It’s been eight years since Variety published an article about the diminished ranks of television critics in US newspapers, replaced by wire copy or nothing at all. I wrote a reaction with the Canadian perspective, which at the time I said was even more dismal than our southern cousins.

Guess what? It’s worse now, and worsening.

The Toronto Star at the time of those posts had Vinay Menon, Jim Bawden and Rob Salem, none of whom are still with that beat. Now they tend to use non-beat reporters and Canadian Press wire copy. Dana Gee is no longer on the Province’s TV beat, and Alex Strachan was recently laid off as Postmedia’s TV critics.

Scott Stinson of the National Post now covers sports, leaving TV to wire copy and a collection of bloggers who sometimes seem vaguely aware there might be thriving homegrown shows. The Toronto Sun’s Bill Harris remains, but the other Bill, Bill Brioux, is making a go of it as a freelancer for the Canadian Press, among others.

Huffington Post Canada just gutted their localized television coverage and no one in the Canadian TV industry seemed to notice or care. We’ve benefited from Chris Jancelewicz’s Orphan Black recaps making the transition to TV, eh?, and The TV Junkies among other places has benefitted from Denette Wilford’s TV writing. But Huffpo Canada is left posting hypocritical, gutless articles about how Canadian TV needs more trenchant criticism and the best sites for film and television coverage while not having to bother doing any itself.

TV Guide Canada went dark last year and its writers dispersed online, their passion for covering TV leading to them writing about it wherever they can,  including reviving this site (hi Greg David) and the birth of The TV Junkies (hi Amber Dowling).

Loud voices within the Canadian TV industry rail against the Globe and Mail’s John Doyle, presumably thinking no criticism is better than his criticism. The rate things are going, they might get their wish.

In the US, some of those veteran critics migrated to AOL-owned Original Recipe Huffington Post and to other funded sites like Hitflix (angel investors) and The A.V. Club (owned by The Onion). Canadian TV coverage  relies more and more on passionate individuals’ pocketbooks and labour, as well as the occasional Indiegogo and Patreon campaign.

The rise of online criticism is wonderful thing, but not at the expense of mainstream coverage that is pushed to people with the rest of their news. Not at the expense of a paid critical community.  Not when some publicists still treat online criticism as the poor cousin of newspapers. Not at the expense of eliminating our own culture from the broader pop cultural discussions.

Apologies to Pete Seeger but where have all the TV critics gone, long time passing? Gone to other beats or trying to create their own websites, every one. Oh, when will they ever learn?


2 thoughts on “Where have all the critics gone?”

  1. We need more critics and reporters, obviously. An actor leaves an American show and it is a big deal on our Canadian media…a whole Canadian show leaves the air after a long successful run, and it barely gets a mention.

    Also…Every time people complain about John Doyle, I hasten to point out that he loved Sunnyside.

    1. We definitely need more, and we need a depth of knowledge that someone who covers TV once in a while doesn’t have. It’s starting to feel like all the major media in this country will share 2-3 critics.

      There are people who cover TV in Canada who don’t seem aware of Canadian shows. That baffles. They don’t need to like the shows– that’s not the measure of a good critic — but to completely ignore the country they work in means unless they’re outstanding writers they could easily be replaced by wire copy.

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