The Deafening Silence of the Online Film Critic Community in Response to CHUD'S Advertorial

Yesterday was a disappointing day for me.

You see, yesterday, CHUD.com ran an advertorial about the SAW franchise (pictured above). But that's not what bothers me. As I've mentioned before, I'm not inherently opposed to the idea of advertorials; in essence, I think any form of experimentation with monetization is not only healthy for our industry, but necessary given the economic climate we live in, although the execution of paid elements like advertorials is key.

[In this case, CHUD clearly marked that it was an advertorial in the title. When /Film ran an advertorial, we clearly marked that it was an advertorial at the beginning of the article, although not in the title. It appears that film critic and CHUD editor-in-chief Devin thinks the distinction of having an advertorial marked in the headline makes a difference between ethical and unethical behavior. To those that agree with him, I urge you to ask everyday readers if they see it the same way. I would bet all the money in my pockets that they do not.]

I will say I was mildly surprised by the apparent hypocrisy in Devin Faraci railing repeatedly against such forms of advertising when we at /Film did something almost identical a few months back, only to find himself part of a site that does the same thing. Devin has said that he was not responsible for the advertorial, and basically offered a lot of explanations/excuses that he would have found unacceptable if they were coming out of my mouth.

That doesn't really bother me too much either, though, because I know that even though Devin is the editor-in-chief of CHUD and probably produces about 60-80% of their content, he doesn't own the site. For him to rail publicly against his employer would be unprofessional and very much biting the hand that feeds him. It does raise the question, however, of whether he should try to enforce his opinion via public fiat on how online film journalism should be done, when his own house isn't in the condition he would like it to be in.

[I contacted Devin for comment about this whole matter, and his response was as follows: "A well marked advertorial is no different than the 'special advertising supplements' in magazines or newspapers that reproduce the style of the publication." I leave it to you to determine whether or not there is a difference, and whether or not it matters.]

But no, what was really disappointing was the complete and utter silence on the part of online film critics about this matter. Specifically, Scott Weinberg and Drew McWeeny, who said some pretty ugly things about us back when /Film ran an advertorial, were completely silent about this issue on Twitter (which is the primary instrument they used to bludgeon us into figurative submission back then). Drew even implicitly defended Devin and joked with him about the people who were getting pissed off about the whole thing.

[Update (10/22/09, 2:00 AM): It has been brought to my attention that my characterization of Drew/Scott's words as "pretty ugly" may not be fair or precise. Unfortunately, I no longer have access to the exact tweets from that day (Twitter no longer caches their Tweets as they did in the past), so I can't substantiate any specifics. I can say that the following is true: Neither Drew nor Scott, nor most people in the online film community, called us names, nor did they behave in any particularly unprofessional way. But they definitely did make accusations that advertorials had compromised our journalistic integrity and/or that we at /Film had significantly hurt the credibility of the online film journalism community as a whole. That much is irrefutable.

Also, Drew has responded in the comments below.]

There are a number of reasons that I can think of why people wouldn't care about CHUD's advertorial, yet would flay /Film for its practices. But the fact remains: either a principle (e.g. "Don't run advertorials, it perverts the editorial process.") is good for all movie websites, or it's good for none of them. Either websites engaging in this practice hurt the industry or they don't. Either they are worthy of our scorn, or not.

As I recently pointed out on Twitter, major tech blogs such as Mashable and Daring Fireball have frequently done sponsored advertorials, and have been doing so for quite some time. And while their readers occasionally bristle, I think they prefer that the tech blogs stay functional. It's also interesting to note that if you combined the audience for /Film, Aint It Cool News, CHUD, and Cinematical, only then would you begin to equal the audience for Mashable (i.e. they are dealing with far larger numbers than us, and their industry seem to have gotten over the backlash to this type of thing awhile ago).

In any case, yesterday was a disappointing day for me. I lost a lot of respect for those who I considered peers in the industry. At least back when they were publicly calling us out, I could see that they had principles (no matter how valid or how misguided) that they genuinely stood for. Through the war of words, I could see that there was some journalistic paradigm they were fighting on behalf of. Now, I don't even believe that anymore.

[As a side note: People who know my work know that I've been doing a movie podcast for about two years, and that I've been writing for /Film quasi-regularly for about a year or so. You can judge me by my work as to whether I'm a thoughtful person about this industry. But in the past year I've seen my respect for a myriad of online personalities virtually destroyed by witnessing their constant infighting over forums such as Twitter (something that doesn't plague other industries such as, for example, the gaming online journalism industry to nearly the same degree). As a general observation, it is not a welcoming community, and this recent inconsistent application of the rules serves to make it less welcoming for people like me. One thing I wonder is: Do people in the online film journalism community really want this industry to be inhospitable and alienating to newcomers such as myself? If so, mission accomplished.]

20 comments :: The Deafening Silence of the Online Film Critic Community in Response to CHUD'S Advertorial

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.
  2. Dave,

    This is a thoughtful and well presented indictment of the hypocrisy displayed after yesterday's events. As someone who, like you, is new to the online film journalism community (I've been writing for Alex over at First Showing since January), I readily identify with the sometimes unwelcoming, inhospitable, petty community that has more than once reared its Medusa-like head. It's all very frustrating. But it becomes less so when I realize that all I can do, all that I have power over, is how my work is presented and remembered underneath my byline. That's what's most important to me.

    And as an avid /Filmcast listener, even though I don't always agree with you (or Adam, or Devindra for that matter), I know who you are through your work -- and I like you for that work. It's about people, this new paradigm of online journalism, and it's about personality. I knew Peter's writing before I knew Peter, and I continue to read /Film because of it, for him and the people he surrounds himself with. Even though Devin can be a curmudgeon, rude, and an asshole, I read his reviews because he knows his shit and I like how he imparts his wisdom. But seeing how he treats others in a public forum (especially my boss!) has colored my emotions every time I see a new CHUD post. In that case, the personality has become a detriment. We're all going to hit different audiences, we can all coexist -- it is very frustrating, though, when coexistence seems to be a caste system rather than a brotherhood.

    In short, I'm glad you wrote this. And, in my opinion, as long as it's labeled above the first paragraph, advertorials are just another means to keep us afloat. Look at what Digg is doing with their sponsored positions on the front page. That's despicable. That's not even content. At least the Away We Go piece provided some decent content. And it was promoting a great film.

  3. Scott Weinberg is a tool. I used to follow him on Twitter and recall the torch and pitchfork Twitter mob he was very much a part of towards you guys. I can't say much for how he is recently but I'm sure running down his last week of tweets would very much remind me of everything I'm not missing.

    Personally I don't care one way or the other if it's an advertorial or not. I'm not an imbecile bumbling along taking everyones word for it. Digesting news and taking muliple points of view is how you arrive at a balanced decision. Besides, the Saw movies have always sucked. Paranormal Activity had an extremely low budget and production time and will be better than anything Saw could bring to the table.

    Anyways, just my 2 cents. Sorry for any crude linguistics, posting this from my phone.

    @gatsome

  4. I am not trying to make any ad hominem attacks here guys, so please try to refrain from doing so yourselves. Thanks.

  5. It's really odd that Devin was so critical of the /Film advertorial, yet he backs a site that did practically the same thing. Agreed. And even if he doesn't like/approve of them, it seems weird to associate one's self or body of work with a site that obviously does. While I found the /Film case a bit surprising, it didn't rub me the wrong way. (I listen to the podcast each week, so maybe that has something to do with it). In the CHUD case, it doesn't surprise me either, but the quality of films being supported differs greatly. If CHUD is really comfortable putting their credibility on the line and promote a horrible horror franchise just to get more hits and money, so be it. I'm just glad that at least if /Film chooses to support a film or show, it'll be something worthwhile and something you guys actually like. Obviously that's not always the case.. I wouldn't be surprised if you/Peter have turned down many opportunities in the past. Bottom line is advertorials don't bother me, but if you're going to do it, at least choose to support something you actually like.. not just because it's popular.

    Anyways, it's a shame that your peers didn't backlash on CHUD's writer the same way. I guess you find out the divide between actual friends and fairweather friends the hard way.

  6. @comeonhitme,

    I disagree with one part of your last paragraph, and agree with another part.

    "Anyways, it's a shame that your peers didn't backlash on CHUD's writer the same way."

    I don't really wish a backlash upon anyone. But if you're going to backlash with righteous and furious indignation, I say at least do so consistently.

    "I guess you find out the divide between actual friends and fairweather friends the hard way."

    So, so true.

  7. I don't mean to attack. It was just an opinion meant to make you feel better. He didn't appreciate it too much either.

  8. Let us not forget that Devin is also very vocal about how much he hates lists and rails against sites that "link bait" by coming up with lists fairly frequent.

    I mean, what was the Saw post? It was a list. Granted, just a list of the films supported by factual release information (not criticism or comment).

    Meh.

  9. Oh, I don't wish a backlash on anyone either. It'd be great if all the different film writers got along. I just find it strange to do it to one person/site and not another. I don't think you can have it both ways, especially if you were so vocal for/against it before. Totally agree with being consistent, that's a better way of putting it.

  10. I'm rather new to the /Film site. I've been using (and still use) Cinematical for most of my movie news, but am a big fan of the /Filmcast as well.

    I find it surprising that such a thing has occurred, but I don't know if you're going the right way about it. This is only what I've seen on a personal perspective, but I find CHUD and /Film's audiences to be rather different. /Film has always been more of a offical-looking site to me, promoting legitimate, big news in the film industry as well as an assortment of interesting editors, saving the smaller bits for articles such as Page 2.

    CHUD is a site that I rarely visit, due to it's overbearing and pushy nature. The news is written in a sarcastic and juvenile tone, and there seem to be sponsors and contests coming out of their ears.

    It surprised me when /Film ran that Away We Go article earlier this year, but I wasn't offended. I can understand that marketing and advertising is important, and it's a tight economy right now. I prefer having no advertorials, but if there have to be for you to stay afloat, so be it. CHUD doesn't surprise me one bit. I hadn't noticed there weren't such articles that existed before, and I frankly didn't care, because they are such a overbearing site. They remind me of the current IGN.

    Still, I don't think it's right to personally call out names on this issue, without getting some sort of information on their feelings beforehand. Perhaps the fact that they attacked you so quickly over CHUD was that they had greater respect for the professionalism of your site. I'm not saying that this is true, I just don't want to see so much controversy and anger in the film journalism community without a bit of background first. I actually wanted to work in this industry, now... I kind of fear it.

    I may disagree with points and decisions that you, or any other writer may make, but to see such hostility between the sites kind of undermines the whole point, delivering quality news and entertainment to your readers.

  11. David,
    You raise some very valid points. I agree that the entire community as a whole is very intimidating and inhospitable. I was shocked at the lack of uproar yesterday.

    @gatsome, I'm sorry, but I've got to stick my neck out for @ScottEWeinberg. I think he is one of the most stand-up guys out there aside from David. He is one of the only bloggers who was willing to answer questions I had about the industry when I began 6 months ago. I have bugged him with mundane questions from the get go, because I was too scared to ask anyone else for fear of being ridiculed. He's always been prompt, kind and informative.

    Best, @frothygirl

  12. Hi Dave

    Nice piece. I too noticed a bit of the hypocrisy you have cited here that surfaced yesterday in the Twitter realm per a quieter reaction amongst peers to CHUD's Saw advertorial compared to Slashfilm's Away We Go advertorial.

    It was also strange, even uncomfortable, to see Devin Faraci---a highly vocal and visible personality against this form of online advertising on respected movie sites---suddenly attempting to back step and clarify his role at CHUD, and yet still speak out against advertorials in general. Recently, I have been taken aback by Mr. Faraci's confrontational nature on Twitter and elsewhere, some of which has been directed at me and my own journalistic standing, and I have to wonder if he's not under a great deal of stress and professional dissonance, perhaps even due to this recent editorial/marketing development at CHUD.

    I do think there are a few aspects you didn't touch on above regarding the differences between Slashfilm and CHUD in this case. As someone with a degree in journalism and psychology, and a longtime contributor and reader at Slashfilm, I think the main difference is that Slashfilm's advertorial was originally posted as a "sponsored article," which left some ambiguity as to what it was exactly. Moreover, the advertorial was posted and for a time surrounded by Away We Go ads on, which perhaps lead to further confusion, as the combination seemed a tad aggressive on the eyes (especially given the ugly burnt orange color of the ads the horrendous hipster doodles) i.e. a blanket campaign that extended from the margins into the content.

    In magazines, the upheld standard is to list "Advertorial" above the semi-content in question, and I do find from a journalistic standpoint that this is the best way of going about it online for the time being.

    Cont'd...

    Hunter
    /Film

  13. Cont'd from above...

    One point that Mr. Faraci has made is that he will not write advertorials personally, and as the longterm staffer and face of the site, I do find this a brave and respectable standpoint. And he did say as much yesterday on Twitter, and even offered to speak with the owner of CHUD if need be on the subject. Again, I have to wonder how much prior knowledge of the decision Mr. Faraci was privy to; he seemed unprepared to face the heat, though as slight as it was compared to what /Film received.

    I find that this is currently problematic throughout the industry, a lack of informing staff about such decisions ahead of time, and recommend that all sites consider advertorials a sticky and often compromising topic for journalists and writers. The other aspect of this topic is whether established and respected staff members of sites' editorial teams should write the advertorials firsthand. In the magazine industry, advertorials are often written under the guise of content by advertisers themselves, or by marketing department/staffers that are separate from the editorial department, if not always literally in terms of office space and day-to-day relations.

    Personally, I am not categorically against advertorials on independently-operated movie sites, especially given the dire state of the economy in face of growing popularity and mainstream (cough: Old Media's last breaths) acceptance. But I do see a conflict with editors and regular writers doing the dirty work for the advertisers. In regard to Mashable, I feel like movie sites deal more regularly with marketing materials, and set visits are sometimes funded by the studios themselves. Without collegiate training and/or lots of experience, it's a strange and difficult rope to walk, and takes a solid understanding of ethics and personal responsibility to journalism. As such, to the outside eye advertorials can appear to be a regressive step towards an all-out blurring of spin and reporting.

    There are a lot of sites out there who shill and are not only afraid but complicit in terms of standing up to savvy publicity teams and providing enlightening opinions and honest reporting. I feel like Slashfilm is looked up to as a torch bearer of the new guard---wow, that sounds epic and is sure to receive eyerolls, hah---and I do feel that the site stands for a lot thanks to Mr. Sciretta's hard work, ethics, and even due to his admiration for Howard Stern and George Carlin.

    Cont'd...

    Hunter
    /Film

  14. This comment has been removed by the author.
  15. Cont'd from above...

    In the future, I think decisions regarding advertorials should not be measured by "explosions" of dissonance amongst peers and readers, but by the oft-unsettling silence that comes with an exceeding responsibility that we have to journalism and constructive criticism itself.

    As with politics in the aughts, we've seen an entire generation allow journalism to fall to deafening pundits, inhuman drones (the trades), and the airbrush requests of publicists, stars, and agents (lad mags, EW, etc)in favor of boosts in circulation, questionable corporate pandering, and old-white-guy syndrome.

    Advertorials are not a means to a plush end, and should be considered a last-resort necessity to help movie sites reach their full potential during tough times. It's also important that we never consider writers who loathe advertorials, speak out against them on a professional if spirited level, and refuse to write them (and I am one of them), as righteous and outdated s.o.b.'s.

    In the end, there are real writers/journalists and there are real movies, and everything in between should never ever compromise that relationship. To me, that is what Slashfilm stands for, and why I write there. Wow, that was a mouthful. Thanks Mr. Chen, and again, nice article. It's clearly important to have these discussions.

    Hunter
    /Film

  16. The backlash you initially received from the other members of the film blogging community about advertorials certainly separates the professional news gatherers and critics from the talking heads.

    This post is tactful and tastefully written -- a shining example of professionalism. We need more of that in this industry, not less. So while you might be suffering from a loss of faith, don't let it keep you down Dave.

  17. David...

    I disagree with your characterization of either my reaction to the article on /Film or the way I dealt with Devin on this. I think you are greatly overblowing my reaction to what happened on /Film. I loathe the practice of advertorials, and would never, ever write one or publish one on my blog, but when they are clearly labeled, then so be it. If someone else chooses to do that, that is a choice they have to make.

    My ONLY ISSUE with what happened on /Film was the way it was labeled when it first ran, and the fact that I didn't even recognize it as a sponsored article. And that was a discussion. I certainly don't think I said "ugly things," implying that I called out Peter or that I called the site terrible names. That's just not the case.

    And regarding Devin, my one comment to him, which you reproduced here like a smoking gun, was designed to bust his balls. I know how much Devin hates advertorials, so seeing one appear on CHUD could not have been a moment of pride and joy for him. I was teasing him about how little control he has over what is seen by many as "his" website, which it's not. He is powerless to veto any ad money Nick pursues.

    I think you've taken this moment to try to point a finger back at me over this issue, and you couldn't be less appropriate. I've never written or published an advertorial. And I won't. And I don't condone the practice at one site over another. I think it's bad for all of us when anyone does it.

    Sorry I was working on a project last night and didn't have more time to properly lambast Devin over a choice someone else made. If he had written the article, I would be the first to call him a hypocrite, but since he had no power to affect it one way or another, I didn't see the point in dogpiling him when I had other work to do offline.

    I'm equally sorry you view me as complicit in this somehow. I'm not.

  18. moriarty,
    for what its worth as a reader who remembers the walloping that /film took, your response here is manifestly different. saying that you were busting his balls just doesn't play, you were obviously looking to defuse the issue and diminish its importance. that is not at all how you reacted to the issue with /film. coming out with 'i was walking the dog' as a reason for not touching it online is frankly lame.
    This gets to the issue that the righteous indignation shown towards /film contrasts nastily with the matey low key reaction to devins weak conflicting defense of advertorials in his case, which amount to do as i say not as i do on his part. this ultimately makes your actions towards /film seem petty. Based essentially on the fact that you felt free reign with /film and absolutely no inclination to apply the some moral outrage with devin. It looks, and is, sloppy.

  19. I have followed all the people involved in both incidents for quite sometime. Although these Twitter arguments can be highly entertaining for obvious reasons, I am getting sick of them. I have nothing but respect for most of you and your constant professionalism, but then when these things sprout up, it makes me take a step back and re-evaluate.

    I have not respected Devin since the unbelievable show of disrespect he gave to Alex at firstshowing in the infamous video shot by Peter, and his constant ridiculing of his peers.

    This is the main reason I do not go to CHUD. I have enormous respect for all the writers at /Film and the way they respectfully articulate their criticisms. In your community, I do not think there is ever a time or a place for the things that Devin continually says.

    As one of the many aspiring writers out there, I have look at David's writing with great respect and one day wish to articulate feelings as well as he does.

    @ChampCheyne

  20. Bummer, Dave. The internet message board snarky stuff gets to me sometimes as well and it's hard not take a lot of it personally when it can seems people are attacking you. I didn't love when you did the AWAY WE GO post but I do remember the backlash from Devin Faraci being a bit much. I had tremendous respect for his film knowledge but I sometimes feel he loves a good fight. It reminds me of the whole "Is it OK to tweet during CRANK 2" fiasco, or as mentioned above, the video of him belittling Alex of firstshowing.

    Don't let it get you down. You've got a great podcast, you do great work, and you clearly love movies. I'll be listening.

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