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For What I Don't Become

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Saddest Ghost Lamp

Monday, August 22, 2005

Priorities, Vol. IV

A new title has quietly popped up in the pages of the Chicago Tribune--former TV critic Steve Johnson has officially become the Tribune Internet Critic. The cheap-shot response to this news would be something along the lines of, "The internet was slow today.... There were a lot of clicks."

And at first blush, it does seem like a silly idea. How, exactly, does one aesthetically evaluate the infinitely variegated slurry that comes piping through your DSL modem? But you can ask the same question of television criticism in a digital cable world--QVC, "The Sopranos," "World News Tonight," and televised NASCAR races have nothing in common aside from their delivery method, yet TV critics are supposed to keep them all in their sites.

So of course it makes sense to bring critical sensibilities to bear on the Web--it is a medium, after all--and my former colleague Johnson, who is smart, wry, and cynical, is ideally suited to the job (the use of the Simpsons screengrab above is not an attempt to compare Johnson to Ralph Wiggum; it will heretofore serve as the default graphic for any and all posts about the Tribune). What puzzles me is the fact that the Tribune has decided not to bring any attention whatsoever to the appointment, not even a press release, despite the fact that it appears to be a newspaper first. (I could be wrong; I know plenty of folks write about the Internet from a critical point of view, but I don't think there are any other actual "Internet Critics" at any major dailies.)

But the real reason I bring it up is to point out the fact that, while the newspaper has made a considered judgment that the Internet is worthy of a dedicated, full-time staff critic devoted to plumbing its mysteries, it evidently does not hold the 550-year-old technology of movable type in similar esteem: The Chicago Tribune does not have a book critic, and has not, so far as I can tell by way of Nexis, since Joseph Coates vacated the position in 1993. Shortly before the invention of the Internet.