question of the day: What makes a film critic “professional”?

Following up on yesterday’s question about the ongoing mass extinction of local newspaper film critics, if you’re interested in this issue, you should be checking out the regularly updated list over at Movie City News over the last 121 (at the moment) critics who made their full-time living from reviewing movies.

My question today is, though: What makes a film critic “professional”?

In David Poland’s posting at The Hot Blog introducing the list and soliciting suggestions of names that belong on the list includes this:

The criteria is a bit subjective, but here is the idea… if you have a full-time job at an outlet and your primary responsibility is being a film critic, you are in. If you are a very, very busy freelancer… you are not. If you have a staff job and happen to post a review every week or two… you are not.

So, for the sake of argument, we don’t see website stars like Harry Knowles or Drew or Devin as people who are primarily employed as film critics. This does not mean their work as critics is not respected. It’s just not the same gig. If you are an experienced pro critic and now you are posting brilliant reviews to your blog… congrats, but not for this list. Then there is Cinematical, for instance, where the entire group is freelance as a result of AOL’s hiring practices. If someone is freelance specifically by the hire, but works for one outlet and more than 80% of their work is criticism, that should make the cut.

Like I say… subjective… but trying to be as objective and fair as possible. Things are very blurry these days.

Are things that blurry, though? I don’t qualify for MCN’s list — because I’m merely a very, very busy freelancer — as lots of other people writing about film today do not, but I’m not sure if eliminating so many of us gives us an accurate representation of the situation.

In the comments section of Poland’s post, Sean Means — who runs the blog The Movie Cricket I also mentioned yesterday, where he also tracks the slow picking off of print critics — suggested this:

1) Is film criticism the bulk of what you write?
2) Are you getting paid for it?
3) Do you get benefits (health insurance, vacation pay, sick leave)?
4) Are you spared from having to hustle for advertising or other revenue generators that pay your wages?

If you can answer “yes” to all four questions, then I submit you are eligible for this list.

Unfortunately, many professional creative writers, no matter what they write, could not answer “yes” to all four of those questions. Those criteria would eliminate almost all novelists, for instance, even those who sell millions of books (because they’re still “freelancers”) from the ranks of “professional” writers.

It’s deplorable that the mainstream press is increasingly deciding that film criticism is superfluous, but it’s not an accurate representation of the state of film criticism to suggest that only those who fall into this extremely narrow definition are “professional.” (Maybe MCN’s chart should be called “The Last 120 Corporate-Employee Film Critics in America.”)

Am I wrong? What makes a film critic “professional”?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me.)

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