For weeks, rumors have circulated that Grantland’s Wesley Morris had been talking to the New York Times, and those discussions have finally born fruit: According to the New York Observer, Morris will be joining the Times as a critic at large, writing for the both the paper and the magazine. "As a critic at large in Culture, Wesley will occupy a newly created position allowing him to write essays and criticism across multiple disciplines and to respond to cultural moments as they unfold," Culture Editor Danielle Mattoon wrote in a memo to the paper’s staff. (Criticwire has reached out to Morris for comment.) That gives Morris, who won a Pulitzer prize as a film critic at the Boston Globe and has written about pop music, television and sports at Grantland, as big an audience, and as much latitude, as any critic in the country. He starts his new job Oct. 19.
Morris was profiled for Criticwire as part of the 2014 Critics Academy. Morris told Kyle Burton, "I’m concerned about the cliqueishness of film criticism. There are a lot of good places to read film reviews, but for me, there aren’t a lot of good places for the voice of a film critic to stand on its own. There has to be a way to individuate these people." (His 2013 conversation with Slate’s Dana Stevens, about covering "Iron Man Three" alongside Olivier Assayas, touches on some of the same ideas.) The Times job sounds as if it will give him a platform to do just that.
In 2015, the Times has take significant steps towards strengthening its already formidable cultural coverage, hiring Vulture’s Gilbert Cruz as its first dedicated TV editor and replacing widely ridiculed TV critic Alessandra Stanley with Time’s James Poniewozik, who started his new position just last week. Morris, along with newly named book critic Jennifer Senior, also late of New York magazine, and magazine Q&A-er Ana Marie Cox, adds to what’s becoming a virtual Murderer’s Row of culture writing.
Good news for the Times is, obviously, bad news for Grantland, which has been carefully watched since ESPN dumped founding editor Bill Simmons in April. No word yet on how they plan to replace Morris, but hiring another writer of his stature will be a tricky business.