Judy Gombita, Communications Manager at the Certified General Accountants of Ontario, spotted the following editorial letter written by Gavin Smith in Film Comment, published by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, New York. Because it relates to the roles of journalists (film critics, to be specific) and bloggers–the subject of my post: Is Our Role Changing?–Judy obtained permission of Gavin for me to reprint his letter.

Editor’s Letter
Film Comment
July/August 2006

Confession: the exuberant and ever-proliferating world of Internet blogs and websites sometimes scares me. Online publishing is faster, more immediate, more flexible, and sometimes more comprehensive and expansive than a bimonthly magazine can be. What’s more, online content is free of charge. By comparison, print publications are slow, limited in editorial space and reach, and costly to produce. At this point you’re all waiting for me to use the D-word—“dinosaur,” as in: extinct. But as tactile, physical objects, magazines will only be as obsolete as the radio, the postal service, matchbooks, shoelaces, wool, and ocean liners. If blogs are double-decker Airbus jets, print publications are ocean liners.

The Internet is transforming film criticism just as it is every other sphere of human activity. Today, writing on film is thriving and mutating beyond the wildest dreams of those who lived through the heyday of movie culture 30 years ago. Via the Web, voracious cinephiles can read daily or hourly updated report from bloggers attending film festivals near and far. By contrast, our Cannes coverage is appearing long after the dust has settled—over a month after the festival’s closing night.

Film Comment has been around for 40 years. Some feel its best years are behind it, others that it’s never been better. (One thing’s for sure: it’s never looked better.) If that makes us middle-aged, then online film culture is in its adolescence, with everything that implies: tremendous potential and obvious limitations. I tend to think that blogs are long on opinions and short on ideas and insights. The speech with which people can write and post is exciting, but isn’t conducive to more considered, reflective viewpoints. As exponents of the DIY philosophy, bloggers just like writers in other media, would nevertheless benefit from a little editing (but then, as an editor, I would say that, wouldn’t I?).

But if the hotbeds of online cinephilia are, to paraphrase Lester-Bangs, oftentimes a space where people who can’t write chase the attention of people who can’t read, they are also a vital training ground for developing writers. Talent will out. There’s no reason why today’s bloggers can’t be tomorrow’s professional film critics and journalists. (Some of them already are, sort of: Dave Poland and Harry Knowles may not possess the most scintillating critical minds, but apparently they have become indispensable.) Sure, some blogs are conduits for diaristic solipsism, trivial buzz, and endless smackdowns, but the best are about community building, engaged debate, and promoting a genuinely discursive approach to criticism—and the overall result is tremendous vitality. Moreover, as general-interest newspapers and magazines dumb down and ditch knowledgeable film critics in their quest for the next Anthony Lane, the online world has been and will continue to be a haven for migrating print writers who haven’t run out of things to say—as Dave Kehr’s thriving website attests.

In the end, apart from a devotion to cinema, the staff of this magazine and its contributors have one big thing in common with all of those bloggers and website creators out there: all of our publications are labors of love.

Gavin Smith