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A.O. Scott on Why the New York Times Changed Its Review Policy

A.O. Scott on Why the New York Times Changed Its Review Policy

Yesterday, Variety broke the story that the New York Times was no longer reviewing every theatrical release in New York City — a change that, as critic A.O. Scott quickly pointed on on Twitter, actually went into effect earlier this year. Scott had a number of other qualms with Variety’s story (which has since been updated), so we reached out to him directly to get clarification on what’s changed at the Times, and what it means for the future.

When did the Times make the decision to stop reviewing every theatrical release in New York City, and what was the straw that broke the camel’s back?

This has been under discussion for a long time, as the number of
New York releases has continued to grow every year, driven in part (as
you and others have pointed out) by our policy of reviewing everything.
Late last year we decided to make a change, which went into effect early
this year, in early February
if I remember right. As a courtesy, we’ve been sending emails to
publicists whose movies we’re not reviewing so they aren’t blind-sided
when they open the paper on Friday.
One of those emails finally made it into the grapevine this week, and
made it to Variety. We were a little surprised it took so long for that
shoe to drop.

How big an effect is this likely to have? How many movies will end up going unreviewed?

The target is freelance budget rather than
number of reviews. I can’t share the number, and I’m not quite sure how
it will correlate with how many reviews we end up with, but I don’t
imagine it would amount to more than 10%, if that.

Who makes the decision about which movies get reviewed and which don’t? What is the process?

Manohla
and I make the assignments, as we always have, and we decide what to
skip. We research the titles and try to cull obvious four-walls, vanity
releases and movies that would have been straight-to-video releases in
the past. We always try to err on the side of [giving] a movie attention. It’s
better to risk running a review of something worthless than to risk
overlooking something worthwhile. That’s ultimately a subjective
judgment, of course, but we do our best.

As you’d expect, the immediate concern now that this policy has gone public is that smaller releases will fall through the cracks, and that films, and the Times’ coverage, will suffer as a whole. What’s the upside? Is there a way this might improve the Times’ movie coverage as well?

We will save money. We’ll have more opportunities to break reviews out of the very crowded Friday
roundup. And as digital platforms and non-theatrical release options
occupy more and more of the landscape, we’ll be better able to figure
out how to address them. The ways that people consume movies and every
other kind of visual media is changing, and we’re trying to keep abreast
of that change, and maybe even get ahead of it. This change in policy
is a small part of that. 

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