Today, the Houston Press confirmed that they were eliminating the position of full-time staff restaurant critic. An advertisement for a freelance restaurant critic position ran in the print edition recently, and when we reached out to Kaitlin Steinberg, who has held the position in Houston since last Summer, she confirmed the news: "I'm still [at the Press], just moving to an editing role and continuing to blog about food."
Welp. Anyone? pic.twitter.com/MdNqsDtMEZ— liz,liz,liz (@married2food) July 22, 2014
When asked if she knew if the other alt-weeklies under the Voice Media Group (VMG) umbrella might also transition their full-time food critics into editors and look to hire freelancers to review restaurants, Steinberg was unsure but wrote: "I believe they are, but you'd have to ask them because I'm not positive." Earlier this year, VMG let Phoenix New Times critic Laura Hahnefeld go; she had been the restaurant critic at the paper since 2011, and was outright replaced with a freelancer. In 2012, VMG cut Lee Klein from the Miami New Times; the role of restaurant reviewer now rotates between Zachary Fagenson and other staffers. Last May longtime influential food critic Robert Sietsema was let go from The Village Voice; he is now the Senior Critic at Eater NY.
Individual critics and editors from around the country responded with skepticism. Some sources on staff have suggested that this was a company-wide mandate, but individual papers are saying otherwise. Dallas Observer critic Scott Reitz had "no comment." Over at the LA Weekly, Editor-In-Chief Sarah Fenske responded regarding their popular and prominent critic: "Besha Rodell is one of America's top food critics (as the James Beard judges have attested). I have no idea where this ridiculous rumor got started, but we're thrilled to have her on staff and have no intention of doing anything to jeopardize that relationship." What is the future of restaurant critics at Voice Media? Stay tuned.
UPDATE: In an email, Voice Media Group's executive associate editor Andy Van De Voorde tells Eater that "we have no corporate policy to 'do away with' or otherwise molest staff restaurant critics. Our individual publications make their own decisions about food and restaurant coverage."