The online culture criticism bubble has burst

The Online Culture Criticism Bubble has Burst
Kyle Ryan, former editor of the A.V. Club.

I miss the internet.

Not the internet of today, of course, a boiling sewage pit of rage and desperation. I'm nostalgic for the halcyon days of the internet of four years ago. Back then I could wake up and read sprawling Game of Thrones recaps on 10 different sites.

But lately, the news about pop culture sites has been dire.

Hulk Hogan TKO'ed Gawker. Grantland was spiked. The Dissolve faded to black.

And now, the satirical newspaper The Onion and its pop culture sister site, the A.V. Club, is heading into uncertain territory as Univision looks to offload its controlling interest in Onion, Inc.

On Monday, I spoke with the A.V. Club's former editor-at-large Kyle Ryan — he left the site this week — to chat about why longform cultural criticism has been struggling.

The A.V. Club didn't just review films, songs and TV episodes. It wrote massive dissertations on them. But when the A.V. Club started crunching online metrics, the results could sometimes be depressing, Ryan said.

"You can slave away on a passion project and it does nothing, and something you crap out in 10 minutes goes berserk," Ryan says. "You can't only do these 8,000-word features on the French New Wave in cinema."

So it shifted. The A.V. Club still publishes longform pieces, but it found that aggregation features like "Great Job, Internet!" often rack up even more views. The Onion, meanwhile, "got drilled pretty hard" by Facebook algorithm changes.

But the issue goes deeper than: The culture itself changed. There's so much more stuff out there. Talent gets lost in the clamor.

Where the A.V. Club once led the internet in reviews of individual TV episodes, the sheer volume of TV has exploded. There's too much TV for critics to watch, much less write about. And with Netflix unloading entire TV seasons in single late-night dumps, the old model of recapping has become increasingly untenable.

But here's the good news: Many of the most talented culture critics haven't disappeared.

They're freelancing. They're on Twitter. They're on podcasts. And, soon, they may be on streaming TV: For the last year with the A.V. Club, Ryan says he's been developing a 30 for 30-style documentary for a streaming service. If it's picked up, he'd work on it as an independent producer.

"Onion Inc. has always been very scrappy — to use a euphemism. We didn't have a lot of fat," Ryan says. "It's just gotten a lot more difficult." ♦

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About The Author

Daniel Walters

A lifelong Spokane native, Daniel Walters is the Inlander's senior investigative reporter. But he also reports on a wide swath of other topics, including business, education, real estate development, land use, and other stories throughout North Idaho and Spokane County.He's reported on deep flaws in the Washington...