Rooney told Playbill.com that his bosses cut him loose on Monday in a cost-cutting effort that was not performance-related. The reviewing duties at Variety will be solely free-lance in the future, he was told.
New York City-based Rooney was also the editor of theatre reviews and theatre reporting; it's not immediately clear who will take on those tasks, but Gordon Cox continues at Variety as theatre reporter.
"I'll be honest, I didn't see this coming, especially since my editors have always been happy with my work," Rooney told Playbill.com. "This was not performance-related. But obviously I underestimated just how far cost-cutting measures would go in such a depressed print-media climate. It's disheartening to think that critical writing has become so increasingly undervalued in arts coverage everywhere, and substituting freelance contributors for unifying editorial supervision is one more sign of this deterioration."
Rooney started freelancing for Variety in Rome in 1991 and became chief Italian correspondent in 1994, primarily covering film as both a reporter and a reviewer. He was transferred to New York by the company at the start of 2003, initially to continue covering film, and became chief theatre critic in summer 2004. He credits Peter Bart with having faith in his work and hiring him onto the theatre job.
Since then, Rooney had been responsible for assigning and editing all U.S. and international theatre reviews (excluding Los Angeles/Southern California, which is handled out of the L.A. office), as well as assigning and editing news content for the Weekly Variety legit pages and overseeing daily theatre coverage. "I hope to continue covering the current theatre season," Rooney said. "Writing about New York theatre and editing worldwide theatre coverage has been hands-down the most fulfilling experience of my professional life."
Even when he was covering film, his eyes had always been on the prize of theatre, he said. Theatre has been a lifelong passion for Rooney, since childhood, he said.
Rooney's reviews of Broadway's Next Fall and Off-Broadway's The Scottsboro Boys have yet to run in the paper, he said.
Variety also let go Todd McCarthy, the chief film critic.
In recent years, Gannett Newspapers (Westchester, NY) eliminated "theatre critic" as a staff position; and the staff critic at the New Jersey Star Ledger took a buyout (wire copy and freelancers are used there).