Just last week, the Times-Picayune in New Orleans laid off 200 employees. Brett Anderson, a James Beard Award winning critic was one of them. Eater has a pretty detailed round up of the remaining professional restaurant reviewers in some of the US’s more important food cities.
It all comes down to money: reviewing is an expensive operation. Washington Post critic Tom Sietsema once estimated he spends about $70,000 a year dining out on the paper’s dime. A full-time restaurant critic is also a position that’s considered more expendable than, say, political reporting, and a mighty attractive job for budget-slicing newspaper executives to cut.
Back in September, The Atlantic had a similar story a couple days after Sam Sifton left his position at the NY Times, and Pat Bruno was let go by the Chicago Sun-Times. This piece has more on the history of restaurant reviewers, which is worth at least a skim.
Fewer and fewer cities still have an Anton Ego-like personality dominating the food scene. As we noted here last month, Portland, Oregon lost its Ego analogue last year and has been surviving with a young, former crime writer on the restaurant beat (the food scene there flourishes). More and more, as newspapers shed their longstanding reviewers, those reviewers go on to write independently about food generally, and their jobs get folded into the paper’s general food-writing staff, such as when the SF Weekly replaced longform critic Meredith Brody with critic/blogger Jonathan Kauffman. The days of the all-powerful critic have already been declared over, but there will always be a need for smart people to write about food in a way that makes you want to eat it or not.