Good morning, the world is short yet another full-time restaurant critic. Laura Hahnefeld at the Phoenix New Times has put in her notice and will be replaced by a freelancer. Hahnefeld has been the critic since 2011 and now she's "starting a new adventure" (see her Facebook announcement here). According to a help wanted post for a "freelance restaurant critic" by New Times managing editor Amy Silverman, the Village Voice Media-owned outlet is looking for someone to "build on the success of our award-winning food coverage." The amount of time required isn't specified, but that sounds a little tricky to do in a part-time position. They have also promoted a full-time food blogger to their Chow Bella blog.
Arizona Republic critic Howard Seftel notes that this makes him the only full-time critic in the region. Seftel adds that in recent years "budgetary constraints forced Phoenix New Times to abandon the Valley's finer-dining scene" and recent reviews "tended to focus on less expensive dining options, like ethnic restaurants, happy hours and breakfast places."
Village Voice Media has cut other critics in the recent past, notably Lee Klein at the Miami New Times in 2012 and Robert Sietsema at the Village Voice back in May. Outside of Village Voice Media, other print media critics have been laid off in droves: Hanna Raskin saw her position eliminated at Seattle Weekly, also in May. Gael Greene was laid off from Crain's New York Business in 2012.
Across the country, print media critics have been unceremoniously cut from full-time positions for years now. In some cases, like at the Phoenix New Times, they've been replaced by freelancers; in other cases, they haven't been replaced at all. Partially this trend is due to the expense of maintaining a critic's dining budget, but are we also seeing a shift in priorities? Have crowd-sourced review sites like Yelp "contributed to the mass murder of true critics," as some have argued? Is consumer advocacy not a priority for media outlets anymore? Or do the old ways need to be shed before a new, modern, digital reviewing model can take their place? Stay tuned.