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Full Disclosure: Bloggers Break Rules

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood October 7, 2009 at 7:10AM

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

This article is related to: Web/Tech, Stuck In Love, Reviews, Media, Critics


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