Wednesday, March 16, 2011

When editors are tone deaf

AOL, which owns TechCrunch and Moviefone, has gotten on the media-ethics-transparency radar because of a request relayed by the latter asking the former to tone down the snark in a review of the new Summit Entertainment movie Source Code.

The review writer, Alexia Tsotsis, balked at the request and standing up for independent editorial control everywhere outed Moviefone for passing along Summit's request.

In her response, Moviefone ed-in-chief Patricia Chui wrote:

2) This is important: We never told TechCrunch to change the post in any way. A publicist at Summit reached out asking if we could convey the studio's feedback to TechCrunch. We did so. If the editors had responded that they declined to edit the post -- which, naturally, is entirely their call -- we simply would have conveyed that information back to Summit.

The reality of our situation is that, as a movies site, we work with movie studios every day, and it is in our best interests to stay on good terms with them.
Here's where we get to the tone deaf editor part: 
Staying on good terms with studios means that we will relay information if asked. It does not mean that we would ever force a writer or an editor to edit their work for the sake of a studio -- or anyone else.
We take editorial integrity seriously at Moviefone, and it's painful to be depicted as a pawn of the studios when that is emphatically not the case. You may think it unseemly for a studio to request changes in an article; that's certainly your right. But the accusation of pandering on our part or crossing an editorial line is, to my mind, completely unfair, and I would hope that a reasonable reader would be able to recognize the situation for what it is -- overblown and unwarranted

Relaying information, if asked, as a way to stay on the good side of an industry that a reporter writing for a site owned by your corporate parent is covering might not qualify as pawnhood. But the great fear First Amendment defenders have is that the consolidated media will severely curtail what should be our freest marketplace of all—that of ideas and opinions.

And Chui's wet-tissue defense of serving as an intermediary of a request to ALTER EDITORIAL COVERAGE is a stark naked example that fear manifest.

The absolute last thing any critic wants is for her/his readers to question their objectivity, a concern grossly exacerbated already when the studios own publications, too. (I've always been impressed with how Warner Bros. movies can get ripped in Entertainment Weekly, both of which are owned by Time Warner.)

So when Chui tosses off this entire matter as overblown, she tacks on the perfect coda to her tone deaf editing symphony. Not only does she not get what she did was wrong on the micro level of the appearance of trying to influence coverage, but she also blows the macro level by failing to recognize why this example of fears of choked independent media was a big deal in the first place.

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