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Time Out circulation rise gives print critics hope

Jeff Jarvis has returned to the hornets nest he stirred up earlier in the week when he asked in his Guardian column: “Who needs critics?” A follow-up post on his Buzzmachine blog is headed: “First thing we do, let’s kill all the critics.”

By a coincidence, this came in the week when Time Out’s six monthly ABC figures showed a year-on-year rise in circulation from 88,851 to 92,233. The Press Gazette sees this as justification of the bold step of putting its London listings on line.

Some, it seems, do still want to find out what the critics have to say. Far from cannibalising its paper readership Time Out has increased its sales by putting content on line.

To recap, this is how Jarvis stated his column on Monday:

Who needs critics, anyway? Not the producers of The Da Vinci Code, who launched a gigahit without showing the movie to critics much in advance. Not the latest Pirates of the Caribbean, which was deep-sixed by professional scribes – who as a group gave it only 52 out of 100 points, as calculated by RottenTomatoes.com – while the critics who count, the ones with tickets in hand, gave the sequel the biggest three-day box office in US history. Not newspapers in the US, which are laying off critics and refusing to send many of those left to soak up PR and parties at television critics’ junkets to Hollywood.

Jarvis does see a changed role for critics but his habit of providing a controversial “sound bite” does tend to obscure his arguments.

The response has been mixed, with some critics becoming very defensive and others more thoughtful. The comment which has brought a renewed attack from Jarvis is a letter to the Poynter Institute’s Blogger, Romenesco, from Margaret A McGurk of the Cincinnati Enquirer. She wrote:

In 10 years of reviewing films, I never found a single colleague who considered stars (or 1-10 scales, or boxes of popcorn or whatever grading gimmick) to be anything but an abomination. They are worse than meaningless; they are dishonest.

And Jarvis responded:

I’m finding critics so hard to take. And I was one. This Romenekso letter from Margaret A. McGurk of the Cincinnati Enquirer typifies the snotty, isolated, egotistical, haughty uselessness of them. She writes condemning star ratings for movies (though she gives them herself).

All good knockabout stuff. A more measured view has come from the Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern, who is quoted in the Guardian’s film and music section yesterday saying:

I don’t mind being an authority figure, but I like the idea of having to earn it. More than ever, if we want to enjoy our status, we’ve got to have something original to say. I think it’s good for a critic to have to stay on his toes.

Somewhere in all this there is a lesson for print publishers. Time Out’s figures suggests that a trusted brand benefits from online as a part of the package.

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