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Full Disclosure: Bloggers Break Rules

by Anne Thompson
October 7, 2009 7:10 AM
61 Comments
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Thompson on Hollywood

James Rocchi is the contemporary model of online era film critic.

He's successful, in this day and age, by running as fast as he can. A recent scan of his email signature reveals his website, rocchireport. He's a writer and reviewer at MSN Movies, film and DVD reviewer at Redbox, reviewer at Common Sense Media: commonsensemedia and of course he's reachable @jamesrocchi on facebook/twitter/flickr/aim/yim/gchat.

By cobbling all those things together and constantly posting on multiple social media platforms, he's building a following and working all the time. Does Rocchi make a living from full-time film criticism? He considers himself a serious film critic, and used to work full time for Cinematical--which is notorious for not under-paying its writers. No, his freelance living comes from criticism and interviewing celebrities at junkets, hence this delightful junket piece from Bora, Bora, where he discusses the inherent conflict of being brought to an island resort to interview stars on a movie (Couples Retreat) that he will eventually --and deservedly, I've seen it--pan.

Remember back when people worried about aint-it-cool-news and the way Harry Knowles flouted all the rules of journalism? Well, welcome to the new world. These issues came back this week with the revelation that the FTC wants bloggers to reveal who pays for them to review products. Here's the NYT, USA Today and LAT. And another blogger tries yet again to define what blogging is.

[Photo: online film writers Jeffrey Wells and James Rocchi at Cannes, 2008.]

I have a sense of how the online movie generation lives, because I track a gang of them on Twitter every day. They work 24/7. Writers and editors for big influential sites like Slashfilm, Cinematical and C.H.U.D. fly around to film festivals, set locations and junkets. Right now a bunch are in London and another group are in Ireland. They complain of terrible airline service, jet lag and migraines and how little time they have to write up their stories. At Comic-Con in July, they interviewed the stars and filmmakers of Iron Man 2--a movie that hasn't been edited yet--trying to figure out the plot by triangulating who shares what scenes together.

Now that I blog full-time, my life-style is starting to mimic theirs. As a journalist/blogger hybrid attached to an established media site (IndieWIRE), I steer clear of junkets for the most part. Although I take what I can get from film festivals. (The London Film Festival is flying me across the pond later this month.) I grew up in the film world as a journalist. Launching my first and second blogs at The Hollywood Reporter and then Variety, as I tested the waters as an old/new media hybrid, it made some of the old guard uncomfortable. It's easier to follow the rules when you know what they are. Even Sasha Stone at Awards Daily, as she questioned if some of the writers included in a TIFF IndieWIRE poll were really critics, was putting her finger on something. The old definitions and rules have gone out the window. Just look at the torrent of reactions to Nikki Finke, who casts herself as an online journalist--but defiantly does not follow the old rules.

Old media daily reporter: get wind of story, land assignment, report, confirm, write, file, put copy through system of copy editors and editors, close, ship, print. This process can take hours if not days.

New media daily reporter: get wind of story, post what you've heard, report and make calls, repost with tweaks and updates, repeat. No editor, no copy editor, no deadline. Early bird gets the traffic. No reward for waiting to make sure you have accurate information--except for maintaining integrity as a journalist.

Old media critic: Graduate from college a star writer. Work way up through papers as critic. Get paid by media outlet to attend screenings, write up reviews at length--thoughtful, long, serious reviews--file on deadline, put through system of copyeditors and editors, get paid. Some critics never went to junkets, never met the people they wrote about. Most outlets outside of L.A. and N.Y. did accept them in order to gain access to feature interviews with directors and stars. Object: build readers, sell papers.

New media critic: get paid small sums by the story--or live off share of ads on your blog or site. Report on set visits (paid by studio). Post early photos, poster art, clips and trailers (supplied by studio). Attend junkets for access to filmmakers and stars (paid by studio). Attend film festivals for access (sometimes paid by junketing studio or festival).

You do the math. Will the bigger sites adopt old journalism rules about conflict of interest and junkets? Not bloody likely. Most of them aren't trained as journalists in the first place. They are film fans, thrilled to be sharing their passion with their readers. Most are barely scrabbling together a living wage. Will their need for studio access have an impact on what online media outlets will cover and write? Absolutely.

The reaction to the new blogger declaration rules on Twitter was immediate and continues, days later:

Coming Soon.net's Weekend Warrior: I got home and saw some stuff about the FTC and was trying to figure out what they were talking about... and all I have to say is... WTF?

They're going to try to regulate *BLOGGERS*? Isn't the whole point of blogging that it's just a forum for personal opinion?

Film School Rejects: I just think that if you do it long enough, you're eventually going to step into some murky ethical waters at some point.

Scott Weinberg, Cinematical: "This film was viewed at a Portland press/promo screening." "This set visit was paid for by the studio." "This DVD was supplied by Disney."

Film School Rejects: Question: why just regulate bloggers? What about tv, print and those online journos who still think they aren't bloggers?

.. and those who take advantage of those perks in exchange for only writing good things.

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More: Web/Tech, Stuck In Love, Reviews, Media, Critics

61 Comments

  • Terrence | October 17, 2009 6:42 AMReply

    Patrick:

    I'm glad you recognize the potential you have with Corona. The brand name is well known after all these years, and the site looks good. I think what you have there is a fertile field...you just have to be willing to work the land and plant the crops.

    Remember, web-based magazines (and I'm not talking blogs here) don't have the overhead or expense of bricks and mortar operations, and more and more ad dollars are migrating online. So this is definitely the time to be positioning oneself. These new quality sites remind me of the radio and television, and yes, magazine pioneers of the '40s and '50s.

    Would it be great to pay a staff? Of course. It's all well and good to have such noble aspirations, but one has to get the ball rolling initially and pay oneself first. That's the first mandate of any company. If you can't make a living you can't afford to run it. If you can't afford to run it, you're not going to do any other contributors a lick of good, either.

    As the traffic increases, so does the revenue. Before long, one can have a small paid staff of two or three people, which is plenty to post a LOT of content. And as I mentioned, quite a few sites are successfully operating under this model.

    And while I realize it always feels "safer" to work for someone else, that's an illusion. Companies can let people go at the drop of a hat. At least if one has their own gig, one cannot be fired, retired or otherwise put out to pasture. One has more control over one's destiny...and an opportunity to make a lot more money than a 9 to 5 typically will ever offer. Is it hard work? Sure. So is running any business. But you do get to set your own hours and do your own thing.

    That said, I think you probably already know all of this and will leverage Corona when you're ready.

    Cheers,

    Terrence

  • Patrick Sauriol | October 17, 2009 5:37 AMReply

    It sounds like you have a pretty good understanding of the industry and how to plan strategy for this sector of it Terrence. But you're right, I'm not focused on the $$, at least right now, and could be doing a better job of it like the examples you gave. But on the up side, the content is there and like you identified, so's the audience for it.

  • Terrence | October 17, 2009 3:06 AMReply

    Thanks for your candor.

    I have to say, however, that if you only made $300 (approx) in the past 10 months from your website, you're probably not monetizing it correctly (or effectively). I see your Alexa ranking (admittedly not the most accurate measurement—but a good overall gauge of one's trend) is 240K as of this writing. That's a pretty impressive rise for you in only 10 months. Once you get to below 100K, you should definitely be making a "salary wage".

    As to ad vendors taking 50%, yeah, it seems excessive, but if one wants to run the big ads, that's the deal one has to accept. Once your ranking and traffic grow, the revenue stream grows proportionately.

    It's true that few sites can afford more than two or three total contributors (including the owner), but I disagree that a good living cannot be made. If you look at sites like WorstPreviews, ScreenRant, RopeofSilicon etc, they all started over the past six years or so, and all are making good money now—but they've worked hard and consistently at it for a few years.

    Now, $10K to 20K per month (ballpark average) is certainly not "good money" as defined by what the New York Times would consider sufficient revenue in a month to cover hundreds of staff and enormous overhead—but definitely good for two or eventually three people.

    Remember, ad dollars continue to shift from traditional media (radio, TV and particularly print) to the web. This trend will continue.

    From my experience, you've got to:

    Have a fully professional website, in terms of design and operation (it seems like you already do).

    Have dedication and commitment—you have to treat your site like a full time job and post regular content daily (ideally, at least 10 items).

    Make sure the content is relevant and, whenever possible, unique.

    Develop a proper SEO and monetization strategy (the best option — though hard to obtain — is to get a professional SEO company to work on SEO and monetization monthly for a percentage of the revenue).

    Obviously leverage social media wherever possible.

    Remember, the larger independent sites (who weren't part of a big media conglomerate to being with) all had to start somewhere.

  • Patrick Sauriol | October 17, 2009 1:58 AMReply

    Terrence: I have a full-time, 9-5 job as a copywriter. Before that, I worked as a blogger/social media strategist. Before that, news editor for UGO and Cinescape. My part-time (20-30 hrs a week) job is writing Coming Attractions. I write in the evenings until after midnight, when I get up and before I go to work, during most lunch hours and a little bit after I get home. In the 10 months since I've relaunched I've made enough from the new CA to pay for an iPhone, if I wanted to get one.

    If now you're asking why I'm doing it, it's because I love doing it. I am not adverse to making enough to draw a wage from it, but I would like for it first to make enough to pay for upgrades to the site and hire a writing staff. In a perfect world the site would make cash for me and a staff to write for it, full-time and get health/medical benefits. I also don't want to sign a lopsided deal with an ad agency. I think the typical 50/50 split between an ad agency and a site is unreasonable. Thankfully I'm in a position where I don't have to depend on site cash to live my life, and I will never place myself or my family in a position like that.

    As Harry said up above, if AICN hasn't been able to find a way to make enough to get a health plan going for his team, the method of earning a living from writing for movie websites is definitely flawed as it currently exists. If someone has done it and they've discovered the secret sauce, good for them. I don't know of any that have.

    I have a family, three young kids and a wife that depend on me, and I also think I'm in the minority of movie webmasters that have dependents. I love writing for movies, about movies and I am glad CA is back online. But make no mistake, I do it for love and not for cash or glory. I won't turn away an opportunity to make OK cash but it has to be without sacrificing my ethics or my personal respect. What I'm trying to add to this discussion is the personal cost that comes with running these sites and reporting. I don't want to go on junkets. I don't want to be exhausted, flying to London to meet another filmmaker. The job doesn't pay me enough to write my own independent ticket, to pay for my costs to attend these events, much less for my own personal/writer's wage. I think there's a good reason why a lot of onliners attending set visits are single or without kids (to the best of my knowledge.)

    Finally, yeah, I know that there are many up-and-coming sites doing a lot more to monetize their sites. They may also be doing a lot more social media/guerrilla marketing for their sites. The way I'm choosing to monetize my site, and my marketing efforts, and even the way I choose to take time to shape and write a story, is a direct result of what I'm willing and not willing to do to make a faster buck. But that is another discussion entirely.

  • Terrence | October 16, 2009 12:39 PMReply

    It IS interesting to hear the "new" media's "old" guards discuss this issue. But I have to ask Patrick Sauriol: If you left because of monetization issues, why did you bring Corona back from the grave? You must be expecting to make a living from it. Are you working on it full time or do you still maintain a "day job"?

    I suspect you realize that there are many up-and-coming sites that are monetizing successfully and now capable of paying a staff - albeit a very small one (perhaps two or three people). I similarly suspect that you're looking to do the same.

    The ethics debate and FTC's "nattering" is another discussion entirely.

  • ArnieCunningham | October 16, 2009 11:00 AMReply

    I just want to say it's fascinating to read Harry's, Garth's and Patrick's perspective on this issue--the originals. And very well said. I think your work speaks for itself and has certainly withstood the test of time. Bravo!

  • Patrick Sauriol | October 16, 2009 8:04 AMReply

    Two of the bigger reasons I took Coming Attractions offline a couple of years back was because a) I had enough of racing to find ways to constantly readjust my life to accommodate the fluctuating world of having a movie webmaster income and b) getting burnt out 24/7. Reason A is why movie sites have to depend on volunteers writing for them. When I had volunteer writers working for CA I hated not being able to pay them their fair value. And that's why I'm not following that same strategy again.

    Being flown to sets halfway around the world and getting the "privilege" to interview a celeb ain't as glamorous or as cool as the lay person might imagine. Now if only some of the movie studio PR people, the website owners and the writers working for them would figure that out, we (as an industry) might actually take a big step forward. I also think pigs will fly sooner than that happening.

  • MaryAnn Johanson | October 10, 2009 11:33 AMReply

    @HarryTuttle

    An independent critic would be able to know about films they are not allowed to see (and not just junkets they are not invited to) and talk about the market restricted by the Hollywood hegemony.

    If you don't see that happening in the online film sphere, you're not looking hard enough. It's odd that you assume that it's impossible to cover Hollywood without critizing it, or that it's impossible to cover Hollywood as well as non-Hollywood films. Just because I sometimes have to make the choice to review a big film rather than a small one doesn't mean I always do so.

    Still, I get the gist of your response: You DO believe that genuine, "pure" film criticism can only be the purview of the indepedently wealthy.

    @Brian

    All this talk, all this typing (keypad punching?), all this “ink,” and yet where is today’s Manny Farber, today’s Otis Ferguson, today’s James Agee? Where is the brave soul who would champion PUNISHER: WAR ZONE and CRANK: HIGH VOLTAGE? Not to be found among this bunch, I’m afraid.

    You're wrong. I championed both Crank flicks, actually. And savaged Neveldine/Taylor for forgetting everything they demonstrated on those films with Gamer.

  • HarryTuttle | October 10, 2009 2:09 AMReply

    MaryAnn,
    I wish you knew about ethics as much as you know about my belief.
    You realise that money and film criticism is only tied in the practical (conflictual) job of a film reviewer, do you?
    It doesn't cost that much money to watch movies that your way of living would be at jeopardized by studios pressuring your judgements. You review 10 films a week only IF you want to. With the galore of wannabe reviewers out there, they could all review one movie a year and the audience would be sufficiently supplied.
    If you need a survival job to support your family, film reviewing is definitely the lazy way out... You're not going to make me cry because you HAVE to compromise your soul in order to put food on the table because your first full-time job doesn't pay enough! If you respected the liberty of art criticism and you knew your situation would force you to write B.S. to survive, well, it would be wise for you to find another job... or to stop talking about criticism ethics! It's not because your situation forces you to do stupid things that it should redefine WHAT is a film critic for everyone else.
    There are abstract principles that define values and behaviours. You know, it's called philosophy.
    What you're talking about is empiricism. I don't care how bad is the press economy, I don't care how much wealthier is the standard of living of an American movie reviewer than a Filipino critic, I don't care how many movies your employer forces you to watch every week... for this particular question we are discussing here. The standards of film criticism are beyond all this material matter.

    Punisher v. Crank is really the major critical debate of our times...

  • HarryTuttle | October 9, 2009 11:00 AMReply

    Joe Leydon,
    what "history of film criticism" are you talking about? The kind that was in a documentary last year, featuring Harry Knowles as a critic? I know a lot of critics from my history that would be offended by what is published today...

  • Laremy | October 9, 2009 4:37 AMReply

    The one thing that concerns me about the "film advocate" notion is that many sites seem to be losing the "consumer advocate" facet of their coverage. To me, hammering a film is just as important as shouting from the rooftops for beloved movies. When you're just a "fan" (and really, everyone here loves movies, c'mon) it allows you to bail out on serious and notable issues that need to be broached to keep the industry healthy. Right now the studios have giant marketing budgets, run junkets around the world, and yet are still doing their damndest to run the thing into the ground. It's become an industry of "big week one before the jig is up" and then "quick, RUSH to DVD and scam some people for $20 on the unrated version!" How is this a good thing? How is the carving up by demos and praying you can sucker people for 48 hours going to help anyone in the long term?

    Harry brought up PARANORMAL ACTIVITY -- but that's a rare outlier, produced on the cheap and then scooped up by the studio. Far more common are bloated $100m comic book films that people are essentially afraid to criticize. "What did you expect? It's just FUN at the movies!" Only it's not just fun. It's people's work, passion, and life. As long as the pros are making money there should be a devoted cadre on the other side holding them accountable.

    But really, it's all a little bit moot in the sense that things will have to change regardless of the players involved. The ROI on junkets simply isn't there, on either side. Marketing budgets are already being slashed. Folks, by and large, don't bother to read canned interviews. Video is becoming more prominent. And social media has made word of mouth even more important... and it was already pretty damned important. Which means that the shelf life of bad product is shrinking from 72 hours to about 15 minutes. Ideally this will lead to better movies for everyone alike, fans, critics, and those somewhere in-between.

  • Dave Wells | October 9, 2009 2:19 AMReply

    AICN is a joke. its a hack place that takes anything free and will publish anything

  • HarryTuttle | October 8, 2009 12:43 PMReply

    MaryAnn,
    The subject of the article is the ethical issues of "film critics" and you tell me about capitalism... If your concern is living wages then you're thinking about the job, not about the function of film criticism. So what is wrogn with calling this job "film reviewing"? If you want to attach to your job the ethical superiority invested by "film critic" then you need to do a little more than getting paid to write formated reviews on movies.

    If you have a full-time job on the side then you are "independently wealthy". So your survival needs shouldn't affect/pressure your reviewing decisions...

    Yes "Film Criticism" is a hobby, if you want to put it that way. "Film Reviewing" is the profession that every journalists/bloggers exercise.
    My point is precisely that the profession itself, i.e. people reviewing studio issued movies for print or online media, is defunct. I'm saying that this profession is not honoring the principles of independent critical thinking. So obviously, I don't think that anyone in this business meets the expected standards.
    This said, at Positif, writers are film scholars (with academic/literary jobs on the side) who work for free.

    To start talking about something like "Film Criticism" in America, we should first hear about critics who criticize the system they work for. If they are free to do so, but decide not to, or don't see any reason to complain... then what they (think they) do is not criticism, it's industrial journalism, paid by the industry (directly or indirectly), formated by the industry (or its consumers), marketed by the industry, about films selected by the industry.

    The movie industry is not film criticism. Saying you disliked a movie proposed by the industry doesn't make you an independent critic. An independent critic would be able to know about films they are not allowed to see (and not just junkets they are not invited to) and talk about the market restricted by the Hollywood hegemony.

    What's the point to claim one never meets celebrities at junkets to keep one's independence, if all they review are movies pre-selected by the industry? If only foreign movies were worse than Hollywood movies, I could understand why they don't bother screening them/covering them...

    If bloggers break these unethetical "rules" (which are complacent deals rather than journalistic morals), all the better. It doesn't make their job look good, but it fights the unjust system at least.

  • Edward Douglas | October 8, 2009 11:59 AMReply

    Wow, I'm really coming into this conversation late even though my knee-jerk reactions on Twitter before doing any actual reading on the FTC regulations was quoted in this original piece.

    Personally, I think a lot of people are getting worked up over nothing. Believe me, the FTC has a lot more to worry about then people getting paid to give positive reviews to crap movies. Press screenings and DVDs sent as review copies are exactly that.. meant for review. They're not a perk or an incentive or anything with monetary value that needs to be announced as part of any sort of review. If you're a paid critic or journalist than it's a given that you're working from an early screening/DVD copy and if it's a bad movie being shown/given it for free isn't exactly a "present." As far as getting earlier screenings than others, as some outlets/journalists do, that's a nice perk and sure, that might influence whether you like a movie because you're seeing it before others, but the only monetary value there is that you get to write about it first and maybe get some extra early hits before the pack. Does that need to be reported? That some studios play favorites and allow L.A. junketeers to see movies earlier than NYC which might be why there are more positive reviews on RT before NY is allowed to see it? No, because that's not covered in the FTC provisions. That's just part of the industry that's become a known entity.

    As far as set visits and junkets on location, these aren't a secret once embargo is lifted and if you're attending one, it's usually to either write about being on set or adding flavor to your interviews. I don't think it matters who pays for it or if you're put up in a swanky hotel or have a meal or two bought for you. You're attending these things to write about them and by writing about them, you're revealing them to your readers and then it's up to you if they have any influence on your review than simply being given a free screening. But most serious critics/movie writers are more than capable of keeping those things separate from the actual movie that's on screen.

  • John W. Bosley | October 8, 2009 10:51 AMReply

    Great comment Jeff Dowd. Agree filmmakers need to make great films not good films. I would add that in order for filmmakers to make great films they need to be willing to take some risks and try new things. Too much of the same just creates boredom.

    I think this was a great post by Anne Thompson. Both informative to many who don't understand and also a great conversational starter for all those who are effected by the changes going on. The change will effect all, so all have to adapt.

  • Joe Leydon | October 8, 2009 10:38 AMReply

    "Writers who line up reviews for the official line up on deadline work for the industry. It’s not a suitable terrain to see actual criticism emerge."

    This is... really, words fail me. Well, no, I can think of words to use, but out of respect for Anne Thompson, I won't sully her blog with them. Suffice it to say that just about any film critic of note in the entire history of film criticism would disagree.

  • HarryTuttle | October 8, 2009 10:25 AMReply

    Bob,
    I didn't say reviewers cannot be critics.
    Writers who line up reviews for the official line up on deadline work for the industry. It's not a suitable terrain to see actual criticism emerge.

    Reviewers can sleep at night if they want. They can do they job right, but still fail to help cinema.
    On which side are you? The industry? The disinterested cinema history? or maybe consumers who desperately need advice to have a good time, cause otherwise their life would be wasted if they had to watch a "bad" movie...

  • MaryAnn Johanson | October 8, 2009 10:22 AMReply

    Film Critic is something else. It doesn’t depend on employers, salary, publications, circulation, corporatism, weekly releases coverage…

    Then you are talking about something that is the exclusive domain of the independently wealthy. Is that how it has to be? Are only those who need not make a living -- not even a meager one -- from film criticism the ones who are pure enough to do so?

    I'd love to be in that position. Perhaps, someday, when I win the lottery or snag a rich husband, I will be. (I'm not holding my breath waiting on either.) Till then, I have to find the right balance between being as honest in my criticism, as open with my biases, and as transparent to my readers as I can be... while also figuring out a way to make some scratch while doing so.

    It means, sometimes, not covering smaller films that I might like to cover because there are only so many hours in the day and the bigger films will draw more traffic (and hence earn more dough for me in ad revenue). It means, sometimes, doing roundtables and one-on-one interviews (though I take the subway to local junkets, and never jets to distant ones) because they can bring in a bit of extra money and/or a bit of extra traffic.

    I already work the equivalent of another, non-movie-related full-time job to subsidize my film criticism. If I have to give up the meager income criticism and other film journalism brings in to me, then I wouldn't be able to do it at all.

    Is that what you're suggesting, HarryTuttle: that film criticism is a luxury hobby to be enjoyed only by the rich? Is there anyone working today who meets this standard, and if so, how do you think they manage it? I'd honestly love to know.

  • HarryTuttle | October 8, 2009 10:15 AMReply

    You just said you pay your writers. Advertisers pay you so you can publicize movies. What's the difference?

    What I meant is that your readers are told about a gala event, that is not what they will see if they follow your advice. Did you bring supermodels and volleyballs to your charity events? Do you realize that privileged reviewers get a different treatment than the regular movie goer?
    Do readers get "movie reviews" or "junket-gala reviews"?

    Do you really think Hollywood needs extra help to promote/distribute their products? The American market is the widest, most enthusiast, most intense, most widespread in the world. You should look up how other countries cope to promote one movie on a much smaller circuit.

  • Bob Westal | October 8, 2009 10:02 AMReply

    Brian -- Armond White, is that you?

    Harry, my old blog acquaintance, and Mary Ann -- to me this is merely a semantic distinction. The word "critic" means one thing in academic circles and another thing in quasi-journalistic ones. Sometimes the best "reviewers" write something so penetrating it is also criticism and, occasionally, academic critics write in a way that ordinary humans can actually appreciate and avoid the pitfalls of writing in 10,000 words what can be said reasonably in about thirty. Both have their pluses and minuses.

    Personally, I consider myself a sort of entertainer/educator whose job it is to write about film as honestly as I can. Life is full of constraints and the need to make SOME money is part of them, but as long as it doesn't make us less than honest, and as long as we do sometimes champion little known films as Jeff Dowd suggests we should, I think we can all sleep reasonably well at night.

  • HarryTuttle | October 8, 2009 9:21 AMReply

    You're describing the job of "film reviewers" = people who write opinions and eventually facts on movies.
    Film Critic is something else. It doesn't depend on employers, salary, publications, circulation, corporatism, weekly releases coverage... And most "official journalists" are no more critics than bloggers, they too are just "film reviewers", even if they follow rules (whatever these so-called technical rules are based on).
    Given the state of the Press today, there is no reason to value this system of editors validation. Editors have an economic agenda, and are subject to marketing/sponsor pressure more than anyone else.
    Writing down a plot summary accompanied by subjective impressions on a movie before the regular audience gets to see it, doesn't equate with critical thinking, insights, credentials, authority or ethics...

  • Harry Knowles | October 8, 2009 8:29 AMReply

    Tuttle,

    publicist = paid to publicize.

    Film Advocate does it not for pay. And we do screenings all over the country for readers, for free. Never made a dime off a single event in the entire history of AICN. Every event - even if it was a paid event - my take went to charity... of which I was not the benefactor in any way shape or form.

    I do it because it's about spreading the word on films that I like and wish to see become successful.

    Curious why you do what you do that you would assume otherwise.

    H

  • HarryTuttle | October 8, 2009 6:44 AMReply

    helping to sell a movie = publicist (or advocate if you like)
    but it's not the original vocation of critic (literally critic).

    I wish all AICN readers in their rural towns could have as much fun watching Godzilla as reviewers attending an elitist gala screening... but they don't, they just get the regular movie, not the tailor-made manipulative ego-massaging.

  • Garth Franklin | October 8, 2009 6:43 AMReply

    Superb article and a couple of really great responses so far.

    I can only talk of my experience and being one of the old-time online entertainment news writers I've seen a bit in my time from the very first online film set visit (Scooby-Doo in Australia), to ultra-lavish junkets (Pearl Harbor in Hawaii) to international set visits (Exorcist: The Beginning in Rome) and have seen some regulars and various fresh faces on these trips face this ethical dilemma.

    With only the odd exception though, the people I've talked to on these trips are very aware of the line of compromise and are very careful about not breaching it. The few that prove themselves to be 'schills', where their eventual reports/reviews are little more than press releases, are rarely there more than once and are usually just as much from old media as they are from new. Even the studios I find are far more concerned about not stepping over boundaries than you might think.

    In fact some of the writers I've talked to from corporate sites I find are under far more pressure to deliver good reports, not from the studio though but from their employer who wants advertising dollars. Look at MTV with its seemingly always gushing praise of anything "Twilight", or "Entertainment Tonight" which went from what was once a decently respectable entertainment news show to the only well-used whore in the world with a trademark.

    Do smaller sites compromise their ethics for advertising dollars? I'm sure its happened but I can't see any of the people I've dealt with in regular terms behaving that way. On my own site I can think of only three occasions over the past decade where I've lost potential advertising revenue because of that issue, twice because of my refusal to sit on a critical review I wrote and once because I found out second hand later that the producer found my set visit report far too critical.

    Junkets and film festivals are places where there's more visible signs of that line being stepped over because of their regularity, the abundance of swag, and mostly the financial viability of selling on the articles from them to multiple outlets. Because a lot of the people who do the junkets do it partly to make a living and need to stay on good terms with the publicists to keep attending, they are under more pressure to provide good reviews in exchange for access. That's one of the big reasons why I never let my junket reporter, Paul Fischer, write any of the official reviews that go in the reviews section of Dark Horizons because of the potential conflict of interest (well that and the fact I think he's way too kind a reviewer).

    The other elephant in the room not mentioned in the article is the party/friendships factor. Reporters meeting and befriending filmmakers or stars they admire are under a different and far more acute pressure to compromise their ethics on the review front. Devin once said he's thankful he had yet to come upon a situation where he's had to deliver a mixed/bad review of a film made by a filmmaker he's either acquainted or friendly with. When the day does come it tells you a lot about both the reviewer and the filmmaker. Some like J.J. Abrams, whom I had a non-junket related special interview with for MI3, didn't speak to me again after I later found out he didn't like my review of the film. On the other hand filmmakers like Guillermo del Toro and Edgar Wright have proven to be completely open to my criticisms and take it constructively as intended (plus they don't take themselves too seriously, a quality trait of any well-balanced individual).

    That friendship factor is becoming an influential one in set visits, Dark Horizons has been turned down from quite a few set visits over the past two years while other sites with notably smaller numbers have gone. Asking around about it last time I was States-side, I learned that it's not a matter of budgeting and work quality, in a lot of cases now the filmmaker having a pre-existing relationship with the reporter attending has become a big factor (as the studio and filmmaker thinks that reporter will deliver a kinder report).

    I'm not immune, I've been on two set visits this year because of knowing the director in one case and the producer in another. Both productions looked very impressive, but from experience I long ago learned that the quality of the sets and production give you very little insight into the quality of the final film where scripting, performances and direction are FAR bigger factors to determine quality.

    Ultimately it comes down to the individual rather than outlet, reporters in this field are a lot like publicists in this field - some will tow the company line and unabashedly gush over everything, some will use underhanded methods from threats to tricks to worm their way in, and some are genuine people who will deal with you straight up. The latter are the only ones that I try and deal with.

  • J. Sperling Reich | October 8, 2009 6:32 AMReply

    This column shows proves something many of us have known all along - that Anne Thompson is a well respected entertainment journalist of the highest caliber. Not only is her post engaging and thought provoking, but so are the many comments from some of the industries most illustrious media watchers. (I purposely avoided the words "journalist" and "blogger" in that last sentence).

    I do find it somewhat telling that a majority of those who responded are journalists or entertainment writers themselves (though this shouldn't be surprising given their proclivity). There's a saying amongst those who attend industry trade shows; when the show floor is slow or empty and we stand around talking to one another at our booths we joke that we have nobody to sell to but ourselves or our competitors. I guess my question is, was this post written for the public at large, or other journalists? There is no correct answer, but it sure would be nice to hear from some non-journos on the subject.

    In the end, we should all be grateful. When I first started working in entertainment journalism over 12 years ago, online outlets were considered the bastard step children of their mainstream media counterparts. We were barely invited to junkets and almost certainly rarely if ever flown anywhere. We had to fight to get into screenings or sit at a round table interview. We couldn't even think about one-on-ones.

    I remember trying to convince a publicist at New Line to let me into the "Lord of the Rings" press event in Cannes in 2001. At the time my pieces were posted on both About.com and Yahoo! Movies. I was told only 6 Internet outlets were allowed to cover the event and was unsuccessful in getting into the event. That publicist however lost their job when New Line folded and now online outlets are often thought of before traditional print press. Oh, how times have changed!

    Thanks for the piece Anne.

    -J. Sperling Reich
    www.showbizsandbox.com

  • harry Knowles | October 8, 2009 5:42 AMReply

    Brian,

    We championed CRANK 2: HIGH VOLTAGE on AICN. That said, I didn't care for PUNISHER WAR ZONE - I'm still waiting for a real PUNISHER movie.

  • harry Knowles | October 8, 2009 5:41 AMReply

    FILM CRITICISM is not a hobby. And I do believe most Film Critics would be insulted by the assertion that it is a Hobby. That said, I've never considered myself as strictly a Film Critic.

    I have often described what I do - and most of what my long term writers on AICN do as being a FILM ADVOCATE.

    Every film that you see AICN get behind in a big way is a film that either an individual here at the site, or the site as a whole has fallen in love with. Once that happens we go far beyond merely writing a review of the film, to attempt to help the movie as it goes out to "market".

    Why do this?

    Because, I feel it is a film critic's duty to go above and beyond to help the movies they love succeed - even if the studio does not "get" it, or other "critics" get it and lastly if they are a LONE voice, they need to be the loudest LONE voice in the world - because no writer is ever alone with an opinion. Perhaps they are a limited minority, but not all films are made for all viewers (professional & otherwise). The fewer critics that love something, the more they should work to help it SURPRISE its distributor and the world so that they see how much that film inspired us.

    Take PARANORMAL ACTIVITY right now. I saw the film. Offered to Paramount to set up simultaneous screenings all over the country that we would promote (like we did on DISTRICT 9) and use Social Networking to build an underground support base for the film that came from people passionate about the film. NOT 10s of Millions in Marketing. For 2 years this little film, that many 'critics' heralded had been languishing unreleased. NOW it is out there. Now it seems to be surprising the studio themselves. And the audiences that I've seen it with have lost their fool minds for it. EVEN IF it doesn't look mainstream. It isn't. But it will make tons of money on its investment and more importantly provide variety to the marketplace.

    This is the model that small films need to follow. Warner Brothers should have done this with TRICK R TREAT. Which is doing phenomenal business on DVD & Blu Ray - but would have performed even better had they been smart with a theatrical release pattern.

    There are different scales of release - the studios have forgotten and not adapted to the smaller market films - which often provide far larger profit margins than films like TRANSFORMERS 2. More on their investment, higher quality for the audience and better days in a screening room for the rest of us.

    We're at a very interesting point in terms of the RELEASE of cinema. The old rules of film coverage are at least 14 years further out of date as when I started breaking and rewriting many of them 14 years ago.

    It goes beyond the world of Film and Entertainment coverage. Mainstream news takes part in daily press releases & sound bites. Personally - go read how Ben Hecht used to write when he was covering Chicago back in the 20s and 30s. Read how Harlan Ellison used to write film reviews and criticism. When did the job of Film Journalist become solely dependent upon the rules set out by CORPORATE STUDIOS?

    Any free press is governed by the rules of its EDITING STAFF. The second that we decide to force all writers and journalist to adhere to the strict rules that are dictated to the whole by MultiNational Corporations - which OWN studios, tv stations, radio stations, newspapers, magazines and blogs... There is no FREE PRESS.

    The first time the RULES were challenged was towards the end of the Sixties when the Underground and Alternative Weekly Press outlets began forming all over the country. BUT - hell, go back and take a look at a movie like MR SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON and see the strong arm tactics that existed in the HEARST era.

    There's a reason why I have never SOLD AICN, I've been offered as much as $30 million dollars in the past for AICN and I've been offered $25 million twice by two different Corporations. I didn't take the money and I didn't sell AICN. Why? Well honestly, I have a ranch of 9000 acres in North Texas. I don't NEED to sell the site, so I will keep the site and allow my writers the freedom they desire to write however they wish, without the fear of losing their job.

    I went to College, took Journalism classes, I know the rules. And I have slowly and surely growing AICN at a healthy and progressive rate as our Advertising Dollars allow. One day, it'd be nice to have a Copy Editor aboard. But it hasn't been a high priority. I'm still working on solving Health Care for my staff. Hopefully I'll get that in place soon.

  • Jeff Dowd | October 8, 2009 5:03 AMReply

    Anne,
    Great piece!
    I certainly support the freedom of bloggers to write and feel that the blogosphere has contributed more to helping good films and warning audiences about clunkers than joining unethical relatinships to put oneover on the public. Obviously text messaging etc. has contributed to hindering studios to get an opening weekend out of a bad film has evidenced by the drop off between Friday and Saturday grosses.

    My concern is that I hope bloggers and all of us will go out of our way to support underdog films that depend on media support to get distribution and/or succeed in the marketplace by whatever new models they/we come up with. (one of the main resasons if notthe main reason distributors take interest in film festivals is to assess the level of critical and media support for a film. It is very rare (having been burned by their hearts and/or their desire to acquire a film in a heated festival marketplace) that a distributor will pick up a film without that support.

    This has been the better side of the history of the "old school " critics and journalists for decades and has included many of the hybrid bloggers and new bloggers. One can only think of the fate of so many films and careers without the help of folks like you, Roger Ebert, Patrick Goldstein,Kenny Turan, David Ansen, Richard Corliss, Tony Scott and Manhola Dargis and yes Harry Knowles.

    We are at a crucial time in history--we all know that--the world is changing--it has a better chance of changing in a positive way if people are more informed and inspired and not living in a state of mis-information and fear--the Bush years and therollover mainstream media for much of them showed us what happens.

    Films whether they are narrative gems like Juno which help us come together in challenging times in small ways and make us laugh--the best drug in a very tough world-- or docs which inform, provoke and often inspire us--now more than ever these films need our support.

    If we don't find ways to re-create the film world--ala what Ted Hope wrote about recently--were all going to be screwed and the quality of films may diminish.

    The real question is how we support the better films inside and outside the studio system because if there are better films that can make money--than there will be more money for others. If they fail because we didn't support them, no matter where we work (if there is a great film we should passionately support it even if it is a competitor's film, and bloggers too should go out of thier way support them. Continue to take the studio money to go to a festival junket or London and then can behind a well-deserving underdog! Do your day job --but also follow your heart and mind and use it to support better films.

    If we don't do more of this -- than you can count on more bad films and less god ones. And many bloggers will have less to blog about. So this is personal for bloggers too (the ones who care about film--not the gossip mongers) .
    m
    Lastly, it is incumbent for most filmmakers to make great films not just good ones. And without going into to it here--it is clear that more filmmakers need to study the craft of storytelling and have more awarness of who their target audiences are (that's often multiple market segments who have different values and tastes but would like the same film for different reasons). Filmmakers also need to have more qualitative research screenings (for themselves to improve their films and learn about the marketing potential not for distributors etc --so please no horror stories about how research screenings were used to scuttle films by studios--it is irrelevant to having a series of your own qualitative research screenings-- the folks out there are the filmmakers best friends--as the godfather of soul, soul brother # 1 James Brown would say to his audiences--"Without you there would be no us."

    So can top the godfather-- let's make great films and let's support them passionately-- if we don't...

    Thanks for all you do!

    Jeff Dowd
    The Dude Abides!
    www.jeffdowd.com
    jeffdowd6@gmail.com
    what me twitter? and say something in less than 140 characters

  • Todd Gilchrist | October 8, 2009 4:55 AMReply

    I consider myself a critic and film reporter, not a blogger, and my output reflects more straightforward writing and reporting, so I might not be coming from the same place as M or Axel, but I can personally attest to the fact that I have written countless negative reviews for films from all of the studios, and I still get regular pitches for coverage, screening opportunities, and all (or at least most of) the rest of the stuff that everybody else does. If you're a smaller site or individual who's trying to get access to studio assets and that's a challenge you face, I would understand that; but the bottom line is if the traffic of your site is significant enough to get the message of the movie out to enough people, short of being a pure, i-hate-everything misanthrope, studios will offer you opportunities for coverage.

  • M. | October 8, 2009 4:28 AMReply

    Axel, you make an AMAZING point about the 'little guy' actually needing to cultivate and maintain these relationships to studios in order to survive -- and this is true that one bad review and you're OUT. No more access. Many studios won't even return emails of bloggers in the first place, they deny certain cites access at all, so when you are "blessed" with the chance to actually get to write assignments that interest you, you better hope you like 'em!

  • Brian | October 8, 2009 3:51 AMReply

    All this talk, all this typing (keypad punching?), all this "ink," and yet where is today's Manny Farber, today's Otis Ferguson, today's James Agee? Where is the brave soul who would champion PUNISHER: WAR ZONE and CRANK: HIGH VOLTAGE? Not to be found among this bunch, I'm afraid.

  • Edward Havens | October 8, 2009 3:06 AMReply

    Maybe if I considered myself a blogger instead of a critic and journalist, I'd get more swag, be invited to press junkets in Bora Bora and go on set visits in Ireland. :)

    But let's get one thing straight... if the FTC tries to regulate bloggers without subjecting entertainment writers in newsprint, television and other traditional media to the same regulations, they are going to find themselves in a legal shitstorm that will leave them with egg on their face. Especially considering there are some real whores and starfuckers in traditional media who make onliners actually look like grade school amateurs.

  • Clint | October 8, 2009 2:07 AMReply

    Great article! Always interesting stuff, Anne!
    I think someone might me better off choofing on a pipe, slapping on a Henschel Deerstalker, and aiming their magnifying glass in the direction of the trades though. I think there's more of a story there. Us lowly Internet types are about as innocent and uninteresting as a DTV Scooby Doo sequel. Sad, but true.
    The internet 'bloggers' (like HK, I don't think the indy film website community should be thrown into the one singlely-labeled hole) do it for the love - and that's all anyone needs to know. There's next to no money in it; no real reason to keep on going but knowing someone out there likes your rants, raves and opinion. If anyone at Moviehole accepted a junket trip or paid-jaunt to a lavish location it'd be because they simply need a good feed :) But even then, I'd urge that writer to be brutally honest about the film in question - whether that gets them on someone's s%it list or not. I, like quite a few others, always hear from publicists who think we're 'too harsh' or haven't been kind enough to their films of late. Just a week ago, I heard from an Australian distributor who essentially told us that unless we start giving "more 4 and 5 star reviews to [x] films" we won't be invited to do interviews or attend long-lead screenings. I, with the aid of stress and caffeine, promptly told the person to go jump.
    So yeah... I will admit it is getting much harder out there for the 'web guy' to exist right now. You have to do what you have to do to survive. Everyone is different. Many studios will blacklist you for interviews, retract ad dollars, set visits etc if you trash too many of their films, or be 'too honest' about their product, so there has been a tendency by many to start swallowing their tongue a bit. And I can understand that. If that's the only you/your website can survive - by being nicer to product, publicists & - then sometimes there's no choice. I think it's still important to put readers first (whether or not that gets you booted from a media screening list, or interview schedules) - but then I'm broke, living on Smirnoff sandwiches, and my savings account is giving Kim Basinger's post-Boxing Helena bank balance a run for its money :)
    Oh, and I don't agree that if you do junkets you shouldn't be able to review a movie. Why not? So long as you're honest to yourself, and your readers, then there shouldn't be a problem. And they're going to know if you're not (as soon as you post your 5-star review for "Halloween II" on the weekend following your trip to Rob Zombie's pool party in Honolulu it'll be clear).
    Whatever the case, great read!

  • Axel | October 8, 2009 1:57 AMReply

    Sorry, I did mean so: protect yourself as a film critic is part of doing your job as a film critic.
    And regarding writers, for the studios it´s not about what they think of the movie, it´s about what they write. And that´s not always the same thing.

  • George 'El Guapo' Roush | October 8, 2009 1:53 AMReply

    "Well, it doesn´t help because you develop a relationship with the studio people, you start caring for these guys and their jobs and also you know - for sure - that after doing a negative review you are not going to be invited again. So, if you want to protect yourself a as a film critic, I don´t think is really good to do anything that can alter your view of such movie…"

    If that were true, then the studios would never invite anyone from the online community. Interviews and what we actually think of the film are two separate things.

    Protect yourself as a film critic, or do your job as a film critic? I'd rather do my job.

  • Axel | October 8, 2009 1:51 AMReply

    I guess you can´t be in both places at the same time.

  • Axel | October 8, 2009 1:49 AMReply

    Well, it doesn´t help because you develop a relationship with the studio people, you start caring for these guys and their jobs and also you know - for sure - that after doing a negative review you are not going to be invited again. So, if you want to protect yourself a as a film critic, I don´t think is really good to do anything that can alter your view of such movie...

  • George 'El Guapo' Roush | October 8, 2009 1:39 AMReply

    "I do junkets for international TV networks and let me be clear: if you do a junket you shouldn´t review that movie. Period."

    And why is that?

  • Axel | October 8, 2009 1:24 AMReply

    I do junkets for international TV networks and let me be clear: if you do a junket you shouldn´t review that movie. Period.

  • M. | October 8, 2009 1:03 AMReply

    I would just like to take a minute to marvel at the fact that some of you actually GET PAID to do your writing jobs. Must be nice!

  • Todd Gilchrist | October 7, 2009 12:41 PMReply

    With all due respect to James, Harry, Anne, Robert and everyone else who has posted here, I feel like a not-altogether-dissimilar poster boy for online criticism and reporting. Very much of what I do every day involves hustling for assignments so I can write articles that pay me enough to make rent and food and all of the indulgences of a lifestyle immersed in pop culture. I have been flown to locations for sets and press junkets. I have been given swag. And I have sought autographs, because, quite frankly, I AM a fan. And with a few notable exceptions, we're all fans, movie geeks, whatever you want to call it, we've just been lucky enough to use our enthusiasm and (hopefully) knowledge to find work that allows us to speak and interact with people who create art that inspires and excites us. Despite the transformation of fandom into a four-letter word, loving something is not bad, and it's disingenuous (if not delusional) to think that the appetite or enthusiasm of older critics is any better or higher on some sort of moral scale than that of online writers, even if their execution is more formal or just different. For my specific part, I defy you to find any instance in my ten years as a professional reporter when my love or enthusiasm for any person or film overwhelmed my ability to do my job, or the end result of my efforts was not completely honest. We all have predispositions to or against certain things we like or don't like, and those come through in our work (Ebert's entrenched love for Alex Proyas comes to mind); but ultimately it doesn't matter if it's print or online, TV or twitter - people with a work ethic and integrity are going to do their jobs professionally, not be swayed by opportunities, access, or swag, and report truthfully according to the demands of their jobs.

  • C. Robert Cargill | October 7, 2009 12:20 PMReply

    Anne, I couldn't agree more with your last statement, except the last sentence. We're not ALL scrambling for freelance. There are a few prominent folks doing that and a large number of people trying to follow in their footsteps. But the vast number of us doing this are doing it as regular columnist/reviewers. We ALL have to watch out for the fly by nighters and unscupulous Johnny Come Lately's. But lumping us together was the sin of this piece.

    The truth of it all is that we are standing on the precipice of the new media, and just like TV did to radio and the Talkies did to silent film and the newspaper did to the town crier, so too is the internet doing to print. There are those who will make the transition and those who won't. In the interim, young unproven punks will prove themselves and find their place as giants in the new media.

    But in 10 years? When TV is all but dead and print is a memory? When the internet is where all the ad money goes? The wages will be better and prominent, long running sites will all be staffed with Ivy Leaguers who interned at big firms over the summer breaks. Alex Billingtons and Harry Knowles and C. Robert Cargills and James Roccis will be fondly mentioned as those lucky bastards that didn't HAVE to jump through hoops to get their foot in the door. They just had to show up and figure it out as they go along.

    And some day, God help us, Harry and I will be sitting on a porch drinking beers, talking about kids these days, lamenting the death of journalism and writing with whatever media kills our media.

    Is it the Wild West right now? Sure. But does that make us all outlaws. Not in the slightest.

  • harry Knowles | October 7, 2009 11:48 AMReply

    Actually - my guys on AICN do check with me regarding trips, and frankly there are rarely ever 'gifts'. Most 'gifts' are items that go in closets or storage facilities never to be seen again, except as reGifts. There's a lot of non-visible behind the scenes chatter amongst the various editors and writers at AICN. A digital bullpen - and tons of cel phone conversations - while we publicly humiliate each other via the various social networks.

  • Harry Knowles | October 7, 2009 11:27 AMReply

    Anne,

    In my personal career - there has been only one single time where I feel the studio shellgame of glitz and glamour truly put a veil over my eyes and made me dumbfounded. And that was the world premiere of Emmerich's GODZILLA. The most outrageously successful world premiere that I've ever attended. Filling Madison Square Garden. Beach balls bounced as the film screened. Ali sitting behind me and the Taco Bell Dog sitting on a pillow on the lap of some supermodel that I wasn't quite vacuous enough to recognize. More speakers and base than at an Aerosmith concert. Every foot step rattled your entire body. 10s of 1000s of attendees, screaming, cheering and many standing on their seats and doing the Arsenio Hall Dog Pound "Wuh wuh wuh" thing. It was madness - and my review that praised Godzilla reflected all of that insanity. And still - after over a decade of doing this - it is the only time I can point at an event - and then point to my reaction 2 days later and see them on exact opposite polar caps in terms of liking and hating the film.

    But the point was - when I saw the film again, 2 days later in Austin, when I excitedly drug my Dad to see it and about 30 minutes in, I actually realized the actual quality of the dialogue, acting and story... ...was not reflected at all - in my original review... and it blew me away. I'd never experience the LOVE / HATE switcheroo in 48 hours - but I will never downplay the experience of seeing GODZILLA that first time. It was one helluva film concert - something I haven't seen since. Thank God.

  • Anne Thompson | October 7, 2009 11:13 AMReply

    As I've been thinking about this, it strikes me that old media would do well to pay attention to new media in this regard: they are tuned into their audience, and follow an economic model that works. No question, per Harry and others commenting here, that print journos are part of the studio gravy train. But there were lines drawn, where we knew when something was not acceptable, whether it was a trip or a too-expensive gift. You checked with your editor. Those lines are not so clear when everybody's freelance and scrabbling for access.

  • Harry Knowles | October 7, 2009 10:45 AMReply

    Anne...

    Given in the last 4 months I've been seen correcting trade stories, and sometimes I spend months working a story before it hits AICN - I find it amusing to just block everyone in. Just this morning I was brow-beating Quint for going on a junket for YOUR HIGHNESS, because it is standard AICN policy to not do junkets, unless it is absolutely unavoidable, but then we work for 1 on 1 interviews, rather than roundtables which produce drivel 9 times out of 10.

    AICN is not the AICN of the first 6 years. And I've never considered myself or my writers as Bloggers. They're writers. I'm often assigning them stories, handing them contacts and talking with them about leads and stories in development. and don't mistake Twitter as the life everyone leads. Sometimes, Twitter is a fantasy, a rant, a flirt and a father/confessor... it is also a show and a dance and a circus.

    I know a good 14 or so online "bloggers" as you'll refer to them that I know take pride in what they do and with good reason. They work crazy hours out of passion and love for what they do. Something the "old school media" lost long ago, if they ever had it.

    You can spot the passionate, informed writers from how they write - and by their track record. I've been doing this for 14 years now, I know of many that work at the trades, news organizations, and big media outlets that first started writing on AICN. I'm not sure where this line between us/them & those should be drawn. Just about everyone tweets and blogs. Even if they say they don't.

    The rules I play by with the studios regarding screenings are the same rules and lessons that I learned from Roger Ebert when I did his show. At least the online communities attempt to correctly source their leads and stories, something that the trades continually fail to do.

    As for studios showing bloggers movies early, sending them screeners and swag... Most every newspaper critic, TV critic and radio critic in Austin are at most of the screenings I see, get sent many of the same DVDs I see - the biggest difference is - when most film critics aren't given a pass to a certain movie, I don't see them buying the midnight ticket to see the film on their own dime, though I do see about 80% of the film 'blogging' community doing that.

    I agree that the youngest segment of the Blog community is very fast and loose. And I've heard stories regarding extortion and "give and take" deals for coverage - but I've never seen any actual acts of this in action. Just as I never found a bloody hook dangling from my gas tank on my car after a camping trip. But surely someone has had that bloody hook in their car. It can't all be bullshit all the time, right?
    .

  • James Rocchi | October 7, 2009 10:33 AMReply

    I've never asked to have anything signed. They aren't your friends, and you're not a fan.

    Also, Sasha, my diary on Bora Bora was not my actual review of the film -- that'll be posted on Thursday.

    I don't cover everything; I cover what I'm asked, and paid, to cover. I don't think there's an intrinsic nobility in writing about Samuel Fuller or Bela Tarr until you starve to death.

    Cinematical's payment polices are well within the standards of the industry, and in many cases above them. Every contributor is paid, and paid on-time, per piece. Any concerns about Cinematical's pay rate should be directed towards AOL which has a material relationship with Snagfilms, the owner of IndieWIRE. I left Cinematical because I was offered a larger opportunity at a larger outlet and took it.

    With respect and regard,

    James.

  • C. Robert Cargill | October 7, 2009 10:28 AMReply

    You forgot a few, Anne.

    Old media critic: Respect embargo unless the studio has cleared your positive review, which they've of course approved. This usually is conjoined with studio provided interviews which, if the film is big enough, gets you a name in a photo on the cover of your magazine.

    New media critic: Respect embargo if you have to. Ignore it if you don't. Laugh when they try to embargo an un-embargoed film after reading your negative review. Note that no one ever complains when you break embargo with a positive review.

    Old media critic: Write on a typewriter and know how to spell. Complain about kids these days.

    New media critic: use one of them new-fangled contraptions with spell check that allows weak writers to look like good ones. Damned kids.

    Old media critic: Occasionally have to sacrifice your opinion and values for the sake of the editorial slant of your Editor/readership/media conglomerate.

    New media critic: Write what you think. Only sacrifice your values or credibility if you have little to begin with.

    Old media critic: Comment repeatedly about how four years of college 20 years ago is more valuable than actual on-the-job experience.

    New media critic: Get actual on-the-job experience. Don't have to kiss ass, shake hands or stab backs to move up and get coveted reporter/reviewer/junket gis. You only need to be talented, smart, media savvy or a little of all three.

    Old media critic: become a new media critic when work dries up in the old outdated media.

    New media critic: roll your eyes at all the old media critics jumping ship who then insult you and your friends in blogs. Pine for the golden days when the new media was new and wasn't choked and overflowing with quick-to-snipe old media types.

  • George 'El Guapo' Roush | October 7, 2009 10:27 AMReply

    FTC - Fuck the Critics

  • flint | October 7, 2009 10:24 AMReply

    Interesting piece. I can understand some of the chagrin at the trades and "old-school" media outlets, who have been doing things their way for literally a hundred years, as opposed to the "new media" sites that have become popular just in the past decade.

    The problem some people likely have with the newer movie blogs and independent sites is the "selective ethics", where they appear to have arbitrarily determined what rules they'll follow and what is "off limits".

    So a site like Ain't It Cool claims they'll never "break embargo" and post an early review of a movie they saw in advance, but they have no problem posting reader-submitted reviews of early test/private screenings.

    A blog like Slashfilm didn't seem to have issues with paraphrasing news articles from Variety (or other movie sites/blogs) and then recruiting/paying people to drive their own article up aggregators like Digg and Reddit for the site traffic. But if they claim to "break" a scoop and don't get credit from the trades, that's cause for complaint.

    These blog and site writers seem to want to be taken seriously by the public, the studios and even the trades, and yet they also want to say whatever they want. They'll take the "by any means necessary" approach to being the first to deliver a "scoop", but then they'll want or expect the same respect or treatment as more legitimate media. They may have started as movie fans rather than "journalists", but they don't seem to know what they are now themselves. I just don't think it's possible to be a rebel who plays by the rules.

  • DavidC | October 7, 2009 10:22 AMReply

    Sounds like a complete jerk. The picture is priceless: How can you not want to slap him?

  • boltbucket | October 7, 2009 10:18 AMReply

    Man, Jeff Wells has AGED!

  • Anne Thompson | October 7, 2009 10:15 AMReply

    Regarding Cinematical underpaying, I'm aware of three cases of strong critics leaving the site in good part because they were underpaid: Rocchi, Karina Longworth and Kim Voynar. It's not news that online sites tend to pay less than old media. And I understand that Cinematical now pays better than they once did.

  • M. | October 7, 2009 10:05 AMReply

    Wow, kudos on this -- thank you for raising so many points of interest that no one else seems to be talking about (other than Sasha Stone of AD, who is also quite eloquent on the subject!).

    Many years ago I got my start as a journalist in a smallish town and my editor worked the police beat in DC around the Watergate era. He was old-school hardcore. I was always instructed to not even take a sip of water at any event I was covering, let alone try the food or take the schwag or whatever else. It amazes me when I go into junkets and see people indulging in all of the perks and bells/whistles as though it will have no impact on what they are writing. They come in wearing t-shirts from old junkets, carrying back-packs from others and stuffing whatever they can into these bags and then have the audacity to ask every participant for their autograph and/or personal photos. I often come out of these events having witnessed some of the most ugly, unprofessional behavior out of these "professionals" that I have ever witnessed, wondering what the hell I was doing there with these animals in the first place.

    While I think access is important to a degree, both bloggers AND studios are taking advantage of the "no rules" thing. Just because you run a piece on every film, interview every director and get access to everything does NOT mean you are producing a good body of work -- it means that you have amazing endurance.

  • Jim Vejvoda | October 7, 2009 10:04 AMReply

    Hi Anne. Interesting piece, although the old school journalist vs. blogger angle is definitely old now. What I never hear traditional media types mention is the swag and freebies that THEY receive. God knows, I remember seeing enough boxes of comics and other crap showing up for a certain young film reporter at THR when I worked there with you. There were also plenty of parties, DVDs and screeners available to their film staff. Bottom line is that there's enough scrutiny to go around in this industry, but the trades and traditional media types never look in their own backyard. Why not investigate the tactics of Variety, THR, etc. and look into their relationships? Or would that risk burning too many friends and/or potential employers? Traditional media constantly harps about set visits and junkets as evidence that all online writers are bought off by the studios, yet it's ironic that the reason why the trades are buckling is precisely because the studios have stopped showering them with (ad) money. The same studios that then feed the trades their content and "scoops." No conflict there? Again, I liked the piece and thought it was fair overall, but given your talent and array of industry contacts I'd love to see you expose more of what your old print colleagues are up to next time rather than just singling out the online crowd. Thanks for your time and talk to you later.

  • Sasha Stone | October 7, 2009 9:53 AMReply

    Anne, great piece. What concerns me with film critics/bloggers crossover is what you bring up about Harry Knowles, this idea of being able to trust you are getting an unbiased, un-bought opinion. I thought Rocchi's review was very well done, and honest. I did wonder while reading it, though, why the studio would pay so much money to have these people out -- it isn't going to make their film better and they only lose money in the process.

    That's one thing about the net - it isn't just driven by those putting out stuff; it is also driven by those reading and contributing to stuff. All things considered one is bound to get a balanced viewpoint. I know my readers are always taking me to task for this or that, and that is really 50% of the blogging experience, and something that would never occur to a journalist perhaps.

    and as a sidenote - I hate the CAPTCHA. It slows down the flow of conversation...my opinion. There are good plugins for spam control...

  • Moviezzzz | October 7, 2009 9:27 AMReply

    I blogged about this topic as well this afternoon. To read the FTC ruling, it is very confusing. What does this mean bloggers have to do?

    While I don't get to fly to junkets, I do get review copies. Most DVD reviewers for major publications do as well. Should ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY have to disclose this fact? Does it really change your review? I've given plenty of negative reviews to the films I receive.

    Don't traditional critics get to see films for free? On AT THE MOVIES, are Phillips and Scott now supposed to say "This film was shown to us free of charge, so that might mean our opinion was influenced". Is Scott's NEW YORK TIMES review of a film supposed to open "I saw this film in a screening room, rather than having to wait 2 hours in line, and pay $15."

    Some of what is in the blogosphere as far as film writing is troubling. But this seems to be going too far.

  • Eric D. Snider | October 7, 2009 8:57 AMReply

    Anne, if Cinematical is "notorious for not paying its writers," that reputation is undeserved. Cinematical DOES pay its writers. I am one of them. They pay me, and they pay the others. Not exactly a princely sum, mind you, but typical for the blog world. The assertion that Cinematical doesn't pay its writers is false.

  • Joe Valdez | October 7, 2009 8:35 AMReply

    Fantastic article, Anne. You broke down the news and the players as well as digging into the nagging ethics of bloggers getting perks from the media companies whose product they're reviewing.

    My problem with the 24/7 movie industry bloggers you mention isn't whether a trip to Hawaii is going to trick them into thinking Couples Retreat is any good; these guys are smarter than that.

    What concerns me is how many good writers are being herded around the world to promote the release schedules of the media companies. Is the Internet flooded with stories about Iron Man 2 because readers are interested, or because a studio somewhere is interested in making people interested? The lack of original content relative to the amount of noise is depressing.

  • Vince Mancini | October 7, 2009 8:08 AMReply

    Great piece, Anne. I'll be continuing to flout that rule of old journalism about wearing pants. Pff, shrivs.

    Vince from FilmDrunk

  • James Rocchi | October 7, 2009 7:42 AMReply

    Anne -- not to disagree with you, but I find that when I look at the overall picture (and my tax returns), Junket interviews and Set visits are part, but not the largest part, of how I make a living. That's still reviews and columns. And I do make a living; I'd be lying if I said that perhaps one employer with dental would be better for me than freelancing, but until that happens -- which may never -- I can lie to myself and say I'm a vital freelancer out there on a dream and a shoeshine. And while I always feel morbidly self-aware about junkets -- whether they're a 20-minute drive or a 9-hour flight away -- the fact is that I think you can conduct an interview with anyone about any film and have it be of interest to an audience, as explained further in the long-winded piece you reference.

    I also think there are far better models of the modern online film critic than my inglourious career, but that's a discussion for another day, when I stop whistling Gilbert and Sullivan.

    Also, I would like to state one final thing for the record: My neck is not, in fact, as long as it looks in that photo.

    Yours with regard and respect,

    James

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