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Time Out calls time on negative reviews

Courtesy Time Out

Time Out may no longer hold the esteemed position it once did as the ultimate guide to what to do and where to go in literally hundreds of cities around the world, having published its final print edition of the original London magazine last year, but the brand marches on in digital form nonetheless.

In fact, I was surprised when writing this story to learn that Time Out publishes dedicated digital editions for a host of Northern cities and towns including Blackpool, Chester, Harrogate, Hull, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Scarborough, Sheffield, Whitby, York and Yorkshire.

Having previously written for the publication myself, I can attest to the fact that its reviews, at least between around 2010 and 2014, were undertaken anonymously, and with complete editorial freedom in terms of the resulting assessments, but it looks like all that has come to an end.

According to an April presentation by Time Out chief content officer Dave Calhoun, revisited in Private Eye this week, the brand’s US and UK websites are to cease publishing “lengthy negative-starred reviews on any experiences” and instead publish “+3, 4, 5-star reviews” with a “Time Out Recommends” label.

Any less positive opinions will be limited to a cursory 150-word max write up, without stars, and the publisher will “turn the volume down” on their promotion.

Calhoun reportedly explained that the new policy would “create a more brandsafe environment for our clients and partners.” He went on: “At Time Out we believe in cities and businesses that drive the going-out economy…We must be honest, but we don’t need to loudhail the negative to achieve that.”

The new policy would seem to be quite a comedown for a brand that was once a watchword for counterculture, but now appears to be little more than a self-confessed ad rag after 55 years in business.

However, given the fact that until today I wasn’t even aware Time Out offered a Manchester site, much less Blackpool and Whitby – the current lead story on the Manchester site, The Best Airbnbs in Manchester, was published on March 6 – I may not be alone in not being too greatly affected by the latest developments in editorial policy.

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