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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Variety does a tacky spin job on its film critic promotions

May 7, 2010 |  1:17 pm

Tim_gray Variety has announced that it's promoted Justin Chang and Peter Debruge to the post of senior film critics, which in itself isn't a bad thing. I don't know Debruge's work all that well, but Chang is a terrific young critic who surely deserves to have a bigger platform for his writing.

It's the way Variety editor Tim Gray positioned the promotions that is so, well, pathetic. As you may recall, Variety has been shedding staff left and right, not just having axed Todd McCarthy and David Rooney, the trade's top film and theater critic respectively, but having laid off virtually all of its copy desk as well. So Chang is getting a promotion, but he still has to keep his old job -- being a copy editor on the Variety news desk. Debruge also does double duty, churning out such special section chaff as 10 Comics to Watch and the Youth Impact Report.

How does Gray spin the fact that Chang and Debruge, who apparently have to do everything around Variety except for actually delivering the paper in the morning, are going to simply have to do even more work, while of course getting paid far less than McCarthy or Rooney ever did? In Variety's official announcement, Gray crowed that the two young critics not only bring a fresh voice to their writing, but "the fact that they have other duties at the paper is a great advantage: It helps a critic have an awareness and perspective on everything that is happening in the industry."

Talk about a snow job. What Gray is really crowing about is the fact that he's saved a ton of money by laying off two highly paid critics and is getting two hard-working but much lower-paid young guys to do the work of three people each. It's a great deal for Variety, but to say that continuing to toil as a copy editor helps a critic have any kind of unique perspective on the movie business is like saying that Steven Seagal could become a better actor by studying Shakespeare.

Come on, Tim. You're just getting more work out of these guys. Nothing more, nothing less. When I read this kind of preposterous spin I really worry that Variety is in a steeper downhill slide than I'd ever possibly imagined.  

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Photo: Tim Gray, pictured with former Variety editor Peter Bart, at the paper's offices in 1998. Credit: Los Angeles Times