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The Associated Press: Arts Journalists as Blurbmeisters


by Jerome Weeks 4 Dec 2008

The Associated Press has decreed that its ‘entertainment writers’ can file only 500-word pieces or less. A crowning blow for arts journalism, says Roger Ebert. The 500-word limit applies to reviews, interviews, news stories, trend pieces and “thinkers.” Oh, it can be done. But with “Synecdoche, New York?” Worse, the AP wants its writers on […]

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The Associated Press has decreed that its ‘entertainment writers’ can file only 500-word pieces or less. A crowning blow for arts journalism, says Roger Ebert.

The 500-word limit applies to reviews, interviews, news stories, trend pieces and “thinkers.” Oh, it can be done. But with “Synecdoche, New York?”

Worse, the AP wants its writers on the entertainment beat to focus more on the kind of brief celebrity items its clients apparently hunger for. The AP, long considered obligatory to the task of running a North American newspaper, has been hit with some cancellations lately, and no doubt has been informed what its customers want: Affairs, divorces, addiction, disease, success, failure, death watches, tirades, arrests, hissy fits, scandals, who has been “seen with” somebody, who has been “spotted with” somebody, and “top ten” lists of the above. (Celebs “seen with” desire to be seen, celebs “spotted with” do not desire to be seen.)

The CelebCult virus is eating our culture alive, and newspapers voluntarily expose themselves to it. It teaches shabby values to young people, festers unwholesome curiosity, violates privacy, and is indifferent to meaningful achievement. One of the TV celeb shows has announced it will cover the Obama family as “a Hollywood story.” I want to smash something against a wall.

In “Toots,” a new documentary about the legendary Manhattan saloon keeper Toots Shor, there is a shot so startling I had to reverse the DVD to see it again. After dinner, Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe leave the restaurant, give their ticket to a valet, wait on the curb until their car arrives, tip the valet and then Joe opens the car door for Marilyn, walks around, gets in, and drives them away. This was in the 1950s. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have not been able to do that once in their adult lifetimes. Celebrities do not use limousines because of vanity. They use them as a protection against cannibalism.

As the CelebCult triumphs, major newspapers have been firing experienced film critics. They want to devote less of their space to considered prose, and more to ignorant gawking.

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  • Jennifer

    This is horrifying.

  • Bill Marvel

    Further signs that AP is becoming increasingly irrelevant to the way most of us stay informed.