Who killed the critics?

Who needs critics anymore? Wall Street Journal movie critic Joe Morgenstern bemoans the state of his world today, when he sees a report that studios are releasing more movies without showing them to critics. That could be because there are more bad movies today. But no, it really illustrates a fundamental shift in the dynamics of pop culture thanks to the internet. The Being-Reasonable bloggers write at Forbes.com:

The tactic of skipping advance screenings is taking hold now because the dynamics of movie marketing and pre-release publicity have changed. Like other professional arbiters of taste, movie reviewers just don’t matter quite as much as they used to. Once upon a time, they were the point of origin for popular opinion. In an age of ratings Web sites and consumer-generated content, they are just one voice of many.

Pop-cultural criticism is, if not doomed, on a severe decline for a few reasons:

The first is that we are all now critics. You no longer have to wait for the friend you trust — who, I’ve long said, is the best critic for you — to see a movie, you can now find friends online or watch the aggregate opinions of people online or go write a review yourself. And it’s not just movies, of course. Amazon’s audience is everybody’s critic for everybody’s product. (Who needs Consumer Reports is another question we may be asking eventually.)

The second is that in the failing economics of big, old media, critics are dispensible.

And there’s this: As media explodes with more and more choice, one critic or one publication simply can’t keep up with it all. That was efficient when you had one-screen theaters and three TV channels and no internet and no tools that let anyone create media.

I shocked Howard Kurtz when I suggested that newspapers could get rid of their own critics and help their audiences share their own opinions instead.

If I launched Entertainment Weekly today, I hope I’d have the sense not to propose starting a magazine by hiring a bunch of critics. Oh, I might have a few of them, if they’re really worth reading. But I’d turn Entertainment Weekly into Entertainment Whenever, an online event that brings together opinions on entertainment, big and small, from anywhere, and I’d use technology to help you find the critics you trust.

The truth is that criticism isn’t dying. It’s opening up now that everyone is a critic.