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industry news

The ghost of movie website ethics rises again

Posted by Patrick Sauriol on Friday, October 16, 2009

Anne Thompson, former Variety staff writer and now blogger for the Indiewire network, wrote an interesting article last week about film bloggers/webmasters that are taking part in junkets and special online press events paid for by the movie studios. A fascinating debate is taking place in the comments section where many owners and high profile movie site writers are talking about the challenges they face and their reputation as non-biased (or not-so-non-biased) reporters about movies.

I've been writing online about movies for 15 years and in that time I've seen the pitfalls and perils faced by a typical movie webmaster/content creator. In the first incarnation of Coming Attractions I saw the benefits that came from having a high profile website: restricted access to movie sets or the talent, exclusive content given by studios to break first on the site and more traffic which led to more advertising money for the site (and the ad broker.) The downside was less visible: the pressure to constantly keep breaking exclusive after exclusive to keep your profile high, feeling always burned out from having to be plugged into the datastream 24/7, not knowing if next month's share of advertising revenue would pay all your bills (and then whatever left you would give to the writers that volunteered working for the site.)

By the end of 2002 I was feeling tired, unappreciated and pissed off at not being able to make a steady income for myself or be a decent enough employer to pay my "volunteers" a decent wage. That was a big chunk of the reason why I called it quits, took CA offline and wrote exclusively as a news editor first for Cinescape and later UGO.

My reason for returning and ressurecting Coming Attractions has partially to due with missing the beat, that thrill of writing about cool projects but it also has just as much to do with trying to create a new way of not depending on a site for income or to be beholden to the needs of a movie studio or your audience. At one point I would dare say that Coming Attractions was breaking more exclusives than any other website. From that I got a tremendous sense of accomplishment but really, so what? Is that all that a movie website should be judged by in the eyes of a studio, its peers or its readers? I didn't think so and I still don't. Being the biggest and the best allows you to enjoy certain benefits, like generating the income to do what you love full-time and hire a staff, but judging from the Twitters and comments that I've seen from a lot of the online movie crew, the lifestyle isn't much to be desired. Do I really need to go to Prague to hang out on the set of a movie or can I do just as good a job covering it from my homebase? Do I compromise the integrity of my site by opening the door to the influence of the movie's creators and marketers by getting exclusive trips, perks and access?

I don't think these questions are ever going to go away. Thompson and future journalists that look at this particular online niche will continue to raise them (but not as often as I would like.) And nine years after the infamous ethics debate I started between myself and Harry Knowles, while both of us are further along our lifepaths and see some things from different and also closer perspectives, the questions are still being asked and debated. Is any one answer the right answer? Likely not and each site and each writer will have their own idea as to what's right and what's not. That said, the discussion is still an important one to have.

-Thompson on Hollywood.
emanthia
Location:
Posts: 9
Posted: 10 years 19 weeks ago

Patrick, I was there at the beginning of Coming Attractions and was addicted. Everyday I checked the site. I was very sad to see it go and thrilled to see it come back.

In the meantime, I've started my own blog and working hard to make ends meet with the very little ad revenue I'm able to get. I also have experienced the pressure of "exclusive content." So I view this site with new eyes.

Just be encouraged to know that no matter if you come and go - take a break, end it, restart it - I'll be there to read again. The most important thing is you're happy running the site while you're doing it.

James
Location:
Posts: 1
Posted: 10 years 19 weeks ago

Ditto everything emanthia said above. Respect.

--James (FilmRot.com)
Patrick Sauriol
Location: Canada
Posts: 20119
Posted: 10 years 19 weeks ago

Thank you Emanthia and James. I was really hoping to see some comments in this thread as the subject of online journalism, its ethics and now the rise of social media as a way the public can shape journalism have always interested me. I'll probably be writing more editorial-like pieces like this in the future as the new CA figures out its place in the world of online movie websites once again. I've already had some brushes with studios and other websites and began forming opinions about how the world of 2009 is different from when CA 1.0 was online. I am very happy with the site and my enthusiasm for it remains high. I appreciate the feedback and your observations and that you like the site's role in its community. I've got some more ideas on growing CA and also doing some cool stuff for the online film community which I hope bears fruit.

Emanthia, send me an email and let me know what your blog is. I'm already a fan of James' Filmrot and I recommend it as a great site for getting informed and energized opinion about film. Everyone should check it out.

No matter where you go, there you are.
mrbear
Location:
Posts: 39
Posted: 10 years 19 weeks ago

*sniff* ...i love ya man

Spice
Location:
Posts: 1
Posted: 10 years 18 weeks ago

I read Corona from the beginning and I thought it was wonderful. I've never read Corona for the exclusives. I only want to read about what is coming up and coming out. I do read scoops sometimes but it's just the information for me.

I've always wondered what influence Harry's proximity to the industry has on his reporting and that is mainly why I quit reading. Well, that and the type face and style of writing.

Thanks for bringing back Corona. I missed the movie information.

Spice