BuzzFeed hired Indiewire writer Alison Willmore to be the site's first "film critic" on Wednesday. But Willmore isn't just the first film critic to join BuzzFeed; she's the first staffer at the famously "hater-free" site to officially have "critic" in her job description at all.
Hiring Willmore to write as a critic will make her an outlier from the rest of her co-workers, who operate under the "No haters" mantra that appears on the site's job listings. And that title isn't just for show. Entertainment editorial director Jace Lacob told Indiewire in an interview that "By giving Alison the title of film critic, I wanted to signify that she is empowered in a critical sense." Lacob added, "Criticism is a powerful tool and it's not the only one in the critic's toolbox, but it's often the one that can carry the most weight." Willmore is taking that charge seriously, too. "I will definitely be writing both positive and negative reviews," she told Indiewire.
Compared to other recent hires, that plan to cover the good, the bad, and the ugly represents an important shift. For example, much was made of the fact that BuzzFeed launched a new books channel last fall, with a specific mandate to avoid any negative reviews of books. "Why waste breath talking smack about something?" BuzzFeed books editor Isaac Fitzgerald told Poynter upon being hired last November. Fitzgerald added that he would follow what he called the Bambi Rule: "If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all." True to form, Fitzgerald's posts have revolved around promoting books in shareable listicle content form — "11 Reasons Books Are Better Valentines Than People" and "33 Reasons You're Addicted to Books," for example — and avoiding the thumbs up/down approach of a typical critic.
But don't expect this to lead to sweeping changes for the BuzzFeed approach. In today's interview, Lacob attempts to downplay Willmore's difference from her co-workers. "'No haters' doesn't mean 'no negative criticism,'" Lacob said. "What it means, however, is that we're not going to approach criticism from a place of knee-jerk snarkiness." Willmore, too, draws a line between "empty snark" and what she will be doing as a film critic.