Nick Nunziata, editor-in-chief at CHUD, has written his take on how the role of movie websites has changed over the past decade or so. It rambles a bit, but there are some genuinely good insights about how studios have been increasingly selective about who they grant access to and how they distribute their information to the masses:
There are amazing reps at the studios who have legitimate relationships with some webmasters that aren’t a front and are actual relationships. The same goes for a lot of the filmmakers, though there are a few big names who are ‘friends’ with webmasters mainly as a means on promoting their product. It’s a weird, ever-changing dynamic but it works. It works because the smaller film companies still have a more natural relationship with the internet. The studios have won the war but the sites have won the key battle: Shining a light on the great movies. There’s always room for the balance to exist as the websites find the gems that aren’t getting forty million dollar ad campaigns. But I think we as a whole have become marginalized.
There’s also a great deal of thinly-veiled contempt for sites (which I assume includes /Film) whose purpose is, at least partially, aggregation:
The thing I’ve noticed now (it’s good to get the point in paragraph six, FINALLY) is how many of the sites are covering stuff that previously would have had no place in our editorial visions. Viral videos. Homemade spoofs. Minutia that is at best tangentially connected to what the sites are intended for. The kind of things we’d typically run on our message boards or link from our Facebook accounts. There’s a part of me that feels it’s cheap and beneath many sites (and we’re guilty from time to time with stuff in our ‘Watch it Now’ section) but it’s also survival. It’s just plain survival. It’s cheap content and people respond to it, a fact that incenses me.
I think Nunziata is primarily responding to the nagging feeling that the internet is both getting dumber, and making us dumber. It’s hard not to sympathize with this point of view; when some 20-year old is raking it in by posting a photo of a cat who looks like Hitler, while the 2,000 word essay/interview you just slaved over is getting 10 pageviews per hour, the whole of humanity loses something.
But I think Nunziata makes a number of wrong turns in this piece, even if they’re not made explicitly. First, there’s the unspoken conflation of film news and film criticism, a conflation that seems to occur time and time again in the discourse on this topic.
I have a great deal of respect for the concept that there are experts in certain fields, and that art and culture can be serious areas of study. And while I think we are all learning, some people have clearly been learning for longer than others. We should all revere film expertise, whether we disagree with it or not, and we should all respect the concept that some people may be more equipped to expound about film than others, and that there can be true cultural value in this act of expounding (even though I’d argue there’s still some value to throwing around lay-opinions).
But many film websites also choose to write about film news as well (/Film included), and the “news” moniker raises the parallel idea that film websites do “journalism.” To quote Maude Lebowski, I think writing about film news can be a fun, zesty enterprise. It can entertain people and stir up lively debate and discussion. However, only in certain instances should this be considered seriously as journalism. What those instances should be is probably worth another post. But will the world really lose out if it doesn’t know what your take is on ____ being cast in _____ movie? I’m not so sure.
What I’m trying to say is that film criticism is not the same thing as covering film news. And even though many websites do both, these two things should not be viewed as equals or equally valuable.
The second thing I take issue with is the implication (again unspoken – and maybe I’m incorrect in how Nunziata feels about this) is that there’s something wrong with aggregation. Setting aside the fact that some of the most successful websites on the internet started out as aggregators: I don’t know about Nick, but a lot of us got into this because we love films, and we love geeking out about them. Go to slashfilm.com and you’ll see film news and movie reviews, but also viral videos and posters. Sure, some of the latter might get more traffic than some of the former. But does that mean our site should be looked down upon? What I love about /Film is that, at its best, it restores in me the joy and excitement of movies. If that’s all that a site aspires to, does that make it worthy of scorn and derision? I say no.
Finally, there’s the idea in Nick’s piece that somehow, external forces have conspired to marginalize movie websites. But it is nowhere written that those with the best writing or the best ideas or the best content should expect to rise to the top. In the wild west of the internet, those that are most successful have been able to combine these elements with business and technological savvy, which allows them to reap page views and revenue. Just because you are old does not mean you have to be irrelevant. Likewise, just because you are the best does not mean you should expect that to be enough.
Update: Nick has responded to this post via Twitter: