Ebert & Editors At a Meeting

By: Dave Astor

Roger Ebert turned thumbs-down to some aspects of newspaper coverage.

The film critic told American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors convention (AASFE) attendees in Chicago that many papers are covering movies wrong and also trying too hard to be relevant to young people who prefer other media.

Ebert, for instance, said papers should devote less space in their Monday pages to movie box-office grosses.

“I don’t know why they always have to be there,” commented the Chicago Sun-Times and Universal Press Syndicate columnist. “You could run something interesting in that space, like good local arts stuff. There’s too much emphasis on box-office performance and who won the weekend. Movies, which are an art form, have become a competitive sport.”

Ebert said overemphasizing opening-weekend grosses helps skew movie content toward the interests of teen boys, because they’re the demographic group that rushes to see films first.

“Adults with jobs, children, and lives to lead take more time to see movies,” said the winner of the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for criticism. “They can’t just ride their skateboard to the mall. By the time they get to the movie, it’s gone.”

Ebert added that many papers devote too much space to helping studios “hype” new films. He said these articles often result from many journalists in a room interviewing an actor, so the story isn’t exclusive and the stars usually spout canned quotes anyway.

Oops, Newspapers Did It Again

As for young people, Ebert said newspapers have aimed content at them with little payoff. “The people interested in Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys are not reading your paper,” he noted. “Nothing you can print is going to get them to read your paper. Sixteen-year-olds don’t read newspapers much — you [AASFE members] might have been the exception.” He said today’s youth prefer outlets such as MTV and the Internet.

Ebert, 59, said newspapers would be better off devoting more space to things such as local arts coverage and book reviews. “So many people are reading books,” he observed. “Amazon.com is a success.”

The author of 15 books added: “The only way newspapers can survive is to go up in the market [aiming at more educated readers], not down. You can’t compete with tabloid TV.”

Part of this process would be to challenge readers more. “Newspapers seem very concerned with giving readers exactly what they want — reinforcing their prejudices and beliefs,” Ebert said. “That’s eventually suicide. People are not going to subscribe to papers that tell them what they already know.”

Ebert added that many films also pander to their audiences. “You don’t go to great movies to get your opinions confirmed,” he said. “You go to great movies to have your opinions challenged.”

The TV host is a little uneasy with talk that Hollywood will mostly make feel-good, escapist films after the Sept. 11 attacks. This, he said, won’t help American learn more about the world and empathize with different cultures.

Ebert acknowledged that many of the changes he would like to see in movies and newspapers are “utopian.”


Late Loan Keeps Museum Open
Cartoon Facility Still Plans To Move

The International Museum of Cartoon Art averted possible foreclosure with a short-term, low-interest loan from a benefactor requesting anonymity.

Museum founder Mort Walker said the loan was used to pay everything owed SunTrust Bank. The museum still intends to sell its Boca Raton, Fla., building and move elsewhere.

“Without this last-minute loan, we could have been forced to prematurely close the museum or sell the building at a rate ridiculously below our minimum asking price of $3 million,” said Walker, creator of the King Features Syndicate-distributed “Beetle Bailey.”


‘Heathcliff’ Creator Dies
Cat Comic Panel Will Continue

George Gately Gallagher, who created “Heathcliff” in 1973, has died at the age of 72. The Creators Syndicate comic panel will continue to be handled by George’s brother, John Gallagher, and nephew, Peter Gallagher.

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