No movie reviews will run in the Journal Sentinel

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It’s likely that “Rosewater” will be the last film to receive a locally written review in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The review of the Jon Stewart film, along with reviews of “Dumb and Dumber To” and “Beyond the Lights,” ran in the paper’s Friday Cue section.

But management decided locally written movie reviews, by myself or by freelancers, will no longer run in the paper, in anticipation, no doubt, of the merger with the E. W. Scripps chain in 2015. My last day was Friday.

The argument is that movie reviews fail to generate enough traffic on line to continue running them and that there is so much entertainment coverage online that locally produced reviews have no impact.

It is another service reduction for readers as newspapers struggle to survive. But with the demise of movie advertising in the paper, movie coverage failed to pay its way. The writing was on the wall when show time listings for Marcus Theaters and other exhibitors – which many readers believed to be a public service but were paid ads – moved on line.

When reviews don’t run “it’s not because we’re trying to save money,” according to an editorial in Pajiba, an entertainment website, entitled “The Economics of Movie Reviews, or Why So Many Critics Continue to Lose Their Jobs. “It’s because we can’t afford the loss.”

Of the 200 plus reviews Pajiba ran last year only 21 generated enough page views to pay for themselves.

Arts coverage was once considered essential and newspapers were anxious to have their own critics.

When the Milwaukee Sentinel and Milwaukee Journal merged, management sent me to the Cannes Film Festival to demonstrate its commitment. But movie criticism in print has been endangered for years.

In April even Entertainment Weekly laid off long time critic Owen Glieberman.

“No one would argue that fewer critics and the adjectives they hurl would imperil the opening of ‘Iron Man,” New York Times columnist David Carr wrote in 2007. “But for a certain kind of movie critical accolades can mean the difference between relevance and obscurity not to mention box office success or failure.”

Some reviews will surely run in the Journal Sentinel. No review of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”? Pull the other one. But, to my knowledge there will be no review of “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” opening this Friday.

Hopefully you will find one here.

But blockbusters, with their massive advertising campaigns, can take care of their themselves. It is the smaller, esoteric films that play at the Landmark Theaters, or the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee Union Theatre, that will suffer.  The overwhelming success of the Milwaukee Film Festival indicates audience hunger for them.

Reviews, are the only advertising  many such small films receive.

The New York Times reviews every film that opens in that city, a luxury few papers can afford. I can attest to the diligence of the Journal Sentinel editor in charge to do so here, without using canned or syndicated material.

While I am confident in his ability to MacGyver a workaround those days are gone.

As a film critic, I miss the job.

But as an audience member, I’m going to miss the coverage.

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  • Happy to see you’ve got your own website up, Duane. Look forward to reading your perspective here, and wish you success in whatever other ventures you explore in this new chapter of your life.

  • I’ll miss working with you.

  • Tom Strini

    Duane, I think you can do really well with a blog IF you hit the ground running and publish a lot. Email or call if you want to talk it over. Contacts in my LinkedIn profile. — Tom

  • Christina Ward

    Looking forward to reading your writing here.

  • Andy Nelson

    Well said.

  • Jean DiMotto

    I agree that the absence of your much-appreciated reviews of smaller, indie and esoteric films is a loss to the viewing audience as well as the theaters that carry these movies. Sad. Glad the Dudek abides here in this blog.

  • Well, I follow you on Twitter, and I’m glad to see I’ll still be able to see more than 130.characters coming.from your keyboard.

  • Jeffrey Westhoff

    As another former film critic, I feel for you, and I always enjoyed your reviews. But as much as I miss my own job, it saddens me to see daily newspapers continue to cut film coverage. They say they need to do these things to survive, but soon no local paper will have its own personality. And then there will be no reason for them to survive. For a city the size of Milwaukee to lose this crucial arts voice is practically a crime.

©2019 The Dudek Abides