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.]