Rotten Tomatoes Committed to Inclusion with Critic Criteria Reform

Rotten Tomatoes, the popular film and television criticism aggregation site, is rethinking a fundamental question: who becomes a tomatometer-approved critic? The site isn't changing the way reviews are scored, but it's making an effort to boost the voices of underrepresented communities and critics.

According to the New York Times, the site added 200 critics to the roster, which currently includes more than 4,400 Tomatometer-approved critics. This reform expands critic criteria to include freelancers and non-traditional media that often feature the voices of minorities and women. The expansion brings a more proportionate mix of print, blogs, online media and even podcasts, resulting in more overall inclusion.

"It will always be a better product if it has more voices," said Paul Yanover, the president of Fandango, which owns Rotten Tomatoes, told the New York Times. "We are still looking for the highest quality criticism."

A few additions we noticed are Nerds of Prey, a bi-weekly nerd culture podcast. YouTube reviewer Black Critic Guy is also newly approved, as well as Screen Queens, a blog created by young women and members of the LGBTQ community.

Rotten Tomatoes editor Jacqueline Coley tweeted the changes have been in the works for more than a year. She also said there's a new $100k fund to help send critics to film festivals. The Rotten Tomatoes blog explains how the criticism industry has changed since the site was founded in 1998 — Newspapers no longer dominate; circulation is half of what it used to be and the workforce decreased by a third.

"There was an emphasis on major publications and market-leading broadcasters, on staff positions and broad audience reach," the blog post explains. "In revamping our Critics Criteria, we sought to bring the criteria into better alignment with the way media works today, to promote the inclusion of more voices that reflect the varied groups of people who consume entertainment."

A study from the University of Southern California found 82 percent of the reviews for the highest grossing movies were written by white critics in 2017, and 78 percent by men. A San Diego State University study also found male critics are harsher than women when critiquing women-led films.

Rotten Tomatoes has also changed critic employment requirements, lowering circulation minimums for print outlets and axing the number of years a critic had to be employed a a certain outlet. Previously, standards required online critics to have published 100 reviews, 300 words in length over a two year period with at least 500,000 monthly visitors. New York Times reports the new standard is "consistent output."

"In some ways, we were looking at the media landscape as it existed 20 years ago with the old criteria," Yanover told the New York Times. "The world has obviously changed."

Rotten Tomatoes scores are a divisive subject in the criticism community, especially after ticket-seller Fandango acquired the company in 2016. Its methods for judging a film or show as fresh or rotten aren't transparent or well understood. Fandango including those scores on their site only complicates the situation, as some consumers and production companies both believe those scores influence box office. While the mysticism behind the world's most popular criticism aggregator remains, greater inclusion will equate to scores that better reflect all consumers.

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