When I started at The Detroit News in 2002, the paper employed a dedicated restaurant critic, a dance critic, two film critics, a couple of music critics, a theater, jazz and classical music critic, a fine/visual arts critic, a TV critic, a book reviewer, and an abundance of freelance arts critics and generalists, at least.
By the time I became arts and entertainment editor the next year, three critics retired and a music critic/musician went on tour and never came back. However, because we understood that readers looked to these paragons of criticism for unbiased, enthusiastic (or skeptical) and educated observations of a show, we found capable freelancers to carry on and trusted heavily on wire copy by capable critics at other newspapers.
Sometimes readers attended shows based on a reviewer’s recommendation; sometimes they went in spite of it, because reviews — good criticism written by experts in music, theater, visual arts, dance, film or opera — don’t just sell tickets. They attract populations of people to communities, jump-start conversations, enlighten and draw attention to cultural shifts.
If the newspaper didn’t run a review, my phone rang with readers demanding our critics’ views. If I directed them to a review online, older readers took offense; and rightly so, they did not have the internet or sometimes a computer, and as far as they could tell no one seemed to care.
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