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Roger Ebert finds a new voice, and new model, online

It’s been suggested its time to add yet another title to journalism’s endangered species list: The film critic.

It’s been suggested its time to add yet another title to journalism’s endangered species list: The film critic.


As print continues to suffer from dwindling ad revenue and the
conundrum about whether to charge for online content, the front line
journalists continue to get the pink slip.


Last week, venerable Hollywood trade paper Variety ousted its
longtime chief film critic, Todd McCarthy. For those of us who go by
Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer, this may not register a rotten rating.
But industry insiders see it as a sign that the critic’s printed value
has now been eclipsed by the studio-approved Ain’t It Cool News-esque
Internet hype machine.


“If Variety no longer requires its chief film critic, it no
longer requires me as a reader,” fumed legendary film critic Roger
Ebert on his Chicago Sun-Times blog.


While Ebert may gripe over McCarthy’s sacking, he’s also the
rare critic who’s evolved beyond his “thumb up” movie poster edict. As
more web-attuned moviegoers seek blogger opinions and GreenCine Daily
website debate, Ebert has kept up with @ebertchicago tweets and daily blog entries, showing his fellow critics how to adapt to this new media environment.


This was especially prevalent in the recent Esquire profile
by Canadian journalist Chris Jones, who showed how Ebert’s online
journal became a vehicle for his will to continue reviewing despite
losing his ability to speak and eat due to a series of cancer
surgeries.


“There is no need to pity me,” he wrote on a post-it note to
Jones. “Look how happy I am. This has led to an exploring of writing.”


Jones reveals how Ebert’s candid entries has created a dream
audience — readers-turned-commenters whom Ebert regularly engages with.
It’s led to a rediscovery of Ebert as a brilliant Pulitzer
Prize-winning writer.


Shortly after delivering on Oprah his Oscar picks (with his new
“Roger Jr.” computerized voice), Ebert extended an invitation to the
Ebert Club. It’s an attempt at a paid online content model: A $4.99
yearly subscription that includes value-added benefits like access to a
private discussion thread and “winnowed” @ebertchicago tweets.


And it might just be the thing that takes the film critic off journalism’s endangered species list.



– Rea McNamara writes about the on/offline statuses of niches and subcultures. Follow her on Twitter @reeraw

 
 
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