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A Conversation on Blogging Ethics and Online Film Journalism with C. Robert Cargill, Devin Faraci, and Peter Sciretta

Not too long ago, film journalist (and one of the people whom I respect the most in our industry) Anne Thompson wrote up a blog post entitled “Full Disclosure: Bloggers Break Rules.” In the post, Thompson strongly criticizes many elements of online film journalism in its current incarnation. Here’s an excerpt from the post:

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,” Thompson concludes. “Will the bigger sites adopt old journalism rules about conflict of interest and junkets? Not bloody likely.”

I found the post unfair for a variety of reasons, but it was a comment by my colleague C. Robert Cargill from over at Aint It Cool News that I thought presented a rebuttal with wit and humor:

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 gigs. 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.

Since I’d been planning on doing an impromptu podcast with Mr. Cargill for quite some time, I called him up on Skype last night to discuss this very issue. But I also wanted to invite Devin Faraci from CHUD to join in the fun as well, knowing that his opinions on this matter were strong. So, we got everyone on Skype, I broadcasted it over at my uStream page, and then recorded the entire exchange.

What was supposed to be a 20-minute discussion ballooned into a 2.5 hour long conversation. People from tons of online film websites joined in the chat room, including those from Cinematical, CHUD, Aint It Cool News, Geeks of Doom, Cinemablend,, and of course, /Film; hell, filmmaker Rian Johnson even tuned in. What they heard was a rambling, meandering discussion that ranged a wide variety of topics, including copyright law, the differences (if any) between old media vs. new media, the ethical issues of set visits & junkets, and whether or not it’s reasonable to expect to make a living off of online film criticism.

You can download the entire audio of our conversation by clicking here (Right-click and save as) or you can listen in your browser below

A big thanks to everyone who joined in the conversation that evening. My hope is that something like this will at least be quasi-periodical. Although my colleagues here may be much more articulate than me, I think it’s always good to have a civil, spirited debate about the business and ethical issues that are affecting us all.

As a listener, I’m sure you will agree or disagree with many of the things that are said. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments/questions/frustrations in the comments below.

  • chody

    Hey david thanks for putting this up I'll give it a listen tomorrow at work.

  • Dave, there was a lot of things that I needed to get accomplished last night, but I forgot every single one of them!! As someone who is just getting started in this "business" I found it extremely informative and completely worth my time. The topics discussed were very interesting and made me think a lot about my future in film writing. Hell, just being involved in the same discussion as all of you, I felt inspired. Keep talking and writing Dave. You've got a gift sir!!

  • Anonymous

    "Don’t have to kiss ass, shake hands or stab backs to move up and get coveted reporter/reviewer/junket gigs."

    Um, yeah, right.

  • Hey guys what a great, if lengthy discussion!

    It encapsulates a lot of the issues of the new media vs. old media discussion as well as the movie blogger community issues.

    I think the thing I enjoyed most about the pow wow is that you're all pretty much agreed that its the blogger's personality and reputation that dictates how successful a site or a writer/reviewer is. The biggest sites, are popular because of the work that the founders put into them and the quality of the posting staff. Not everyone is able to make a living writing and talking about movies, but when the business model changes, its going to be those individuals and sites that have the loyal following that will dominate. At the end of the day, there are really only three opinions – liked something, disliked something and on the fence. What differentiates all the thousands of movie writers, is how they talk about stuff. I can attest to the fact that I browse many movie sites and read multiple articles and reviews on the exact same thing to see the different perspectives of my favorite writers.

    The studios use this to their advantage when it comes to press junkets and set visits. These are simply two tools in their 'create buzz' pre release tool belt. A Bora Bora backdrop is, in my mind, absolutely a pay off. It's how the writer decides to discuss the movie that counts. The fine line gets blurry because it is incredibly difficult to know a writer's true angle on something like these events. Are they siding with the studio and shining a positive light or are they shining their own light. Any writer that has an established voice and audience shouldn't have a huge problem.

    The same, I believe goes for those genre sites that decide to post discussions or articles about non-genre films. I don't see a problem with this. At the end of the day, a movie website is a movie website. A Horror fan's article about Where The Wild Things Are adds a new perspective about a popular movie and helps their audience know if they might want to see it. They aren't gaming the system. They are leveraging the buzz of an in the now movie and using it to hopefully attract new visitors to the site that they hope will return and at the same time, offering their audience a valued perspective on a popular movie.

    Keep it up guys!