I have a feeling that this is gonna be a hot topic today. TONY conducted a panel run by an outside consultant to rate the critics of various art forms (including theatre) in NYC. They also (and I love this about them) had their own critics reviewed by the outside panel as well (a list of panelists can be found here, in theatre it includes director Jack O'Brien and press rep Ron Lasko). The results? Apparently Charles Isherwood is second only to David Cote.
Why is this? Well, because they are ranked by overall score, and that overall score includes ranking in the category "influence". So Isherwood and Brantley, simply for the fact of writing for the Times, have boosted scores. Ditto AO Scott and Manohla Dargis. In fact, if you take "Influence" out of the equation, Brantley's score drops from 4.12 to 3.8, while a really great reviewer whom no one reads like John Halipern gets his lower score of 3.68 boosted to a solid 4.
What is this about? This is supposed to be a poll on the quality of critics, to include a measurement of their power seems a mistake. It measures something that has nothing to do with their quality at all. Knowledge, Style, Taste... those make sense. But influence?
This seems to make the same confusion of "success" and "quality" that affects a lot of theater coverage today (I'm looking at you, Michael Riedel). It's the same commodifies thinking that leads us to give Stephen King prestigious writing awards. Just like we can't have the Brilliant Musical No One Sees anymore, we can't have the Brilliant Critic That's Not Widely Read.
All this said, this is nothing to get huffy about. These are fun exercises that make for good magazine copy and fun water cooler conversation. And if leads people to check out some new reviewers, that'd be great.
And let me offer a heartfelt congratulations to David for getting the highest score of the bunch (4.4!). I think he really deserves it.
Oh, and I'm glad to see that a certain blogger was amongst those empanelled.
UPDATE for more on flaws in the methodology, read this.