Roger Catlin has always been one of the sharpest cats on the TV beat. On press tours, his questions from the floor can be counted on to penetrate through the thick haze of spin and mediocrity. His wry observations for The Hartford Courant are a daily must read for TV fans everywhere, thanks to his constantly updated "TV Eye" blog. Roger's razor sharp wit cuts through the cheese. He knows the questions to ask and his readers get answers.
So, naturally, his job is in jeopardy.
Catlin (seen above, right, in happier days on the July, 2006 TCA press tour with Vancouver Province columnist Dana Gee and Minneapolis Star Tribune TV critic Neal Justin) gets right to it on his blog. You can read his typically dry and detached summation of his predicament here. The dude has until tomorrow to make up his mind about whether to take the buyout package or risk staying and losing out in some later round of staff cuts. Big of the paper to give him that extra Leap Year day to think about it.
Catlin may become one of a growing list of seasoned TV columnists who seem to be on the front lines when it comes to casualties in the current and bloody newspaper wars. As circulations drop, ad counts dwindle and profit margins shrink, newspaper staffs are being slashed. It happened to me a year ago. It continues to happen to others.
As newspaper ownership is converged into the same five or six mega-owners, a more centralized approach to beat consolidation is taking place. Why get buddy from Albany or Vancouver or Philadelphia to cover it if we can get the main person in the chain to string it for us all. Local voices are going the way of the Dodo.
A quick, top of my head look at who has been offered and accepted buyouts in the last year or two reads like a who's Who of TV criticism: Ed Bark, The Dallas Morning News. David Bianculli, The New York Daily News. Mike Duffy, The Detroit Free Press. Bob Laurence, the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Others have been retained by their papers but stripped of their beat. Gail Shister, The Philadelphia Inquirer. Susan Young, Oakland Tribune. Dana Gee, The Vancouver Province. Mark McGuire (now covering sports), Albany Times Union.
A big loss on the semi-annual TV critics' TCA tour is the retirement of Dusty Saunders, a career man like no other at the Rocky Mountain News. At least he got to keep at it until he was well into his 70s (and can still beat any man in the room on the tennis court).
When young and smart Melanie McFarland bolted from the Seattle Post-Intellgencer earlier this year (she's now TV editor at IMDb) her paper even didn't bother to replace her. Same with Jim Bawden, the long time Toronto Star TV columnist who took a package in January.
There isn't a TV critic in North America who isn't looking over his or her shoulder these days. As San Francisco Chronicle critic Tim Goodman comments on Catlin's blog, you dare not look at the industry blog Romensko these days, "because it's like reading the obituary for journalism."
Catlin's a sharp dude and will figure something out. Maybe he'll keep his head and his job. It just sucks that he has to even think about this at all.
It's also a sharp slap in the face for readers who keep putting quarters into news boxes. TV has never been in more of a revolution and context and insight has never been more timely in terms of navigating through it all. So why shoot the most experienced, proven messengers? It just doesn't make sense.