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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

movie critics online still gettin’ no respect

You’d think that after more than a decade of some serious damn film criticism online, we’d have gotten beyond this:

Bloggers come in many shapes and sizes. Some are professional journalists. Others are amateur fanboys.

That’s Anne Thompson in Variety a couple of days ago, and that is the full extent of what she sees when she looks at entertainment sites online. It’s either geeks in their pajamas in the basement or respected print journalists dabbling on the Intertubes because that’s what all the kids are doing these days. And there’s lots of fretting about how out of control Hollywood PR is these days, because, you know, the studios have no control over Harry Knowles and David Poland:

Until very recently, studio information gatekeepers and press agents could to some degree control the flow of information about their movies and clients. They could confirm and deny facts and spin stories to a select list of reporters who played by the accepted rules of engagement that went along with their privileged access.

Except they do:

While Knowles was an early studio irritant when he posted reviews from sneak previews, Hollywood learned how to play him. Smart directors like Michael Bay and James Cameron speak directly to their fans through a cordial phone relationship with Knowles. (Some show him early cuts of their films.) And the studios routinely set up interviews and plant original art with AICN’s writer-critic Drew McWeeny for such films as “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.”

But he’s still just a pathetic dork:

In many ways, Austin-based aint-it-cool-news webmaster Harry Knowles is the prototype of the nonpro geek-at-home fanboy.

Who cares, though? Cuz nobody who matters is reading blogs anyway:

While many people read favorite blogs that speak particularly to them, most folks go directly to established news sources such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today or the Los Angeles Times.

Most normal folks read proper newspapers, you see. Blogs are too messy, too opinionated. Cuz, you know, they don’t spellcheck:

Many media outlets are building online traffic by giving their best-known writers blogs. While fact- and spell-checking is still de rigueur, so are more personal statements of point-of-view and opinion. On a blog, writers can get away with a heartfelt lack of objectivity that they can’t inside the strictures of the newsroom. New York Post critic Lou Lumenick is one of a growing number of daily newspaper critics who are reaching out to readers via blogs. Other notables: the Boston Globe’s Ty Burr, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Carrie Rickey and the Oregonian’s Shawn Levy. (Some ex-print critics have developed their own online followings, including EmanuelLevy.com, HenrySheehan.com and DaveKehr.com.)

See, it’s okay if proper newspaper writers get all bloggy and opinionated and all, cuz, well, it just is, okay?

Anyway, it’s pointless to pay attention to Thompson: she clearly has no idea what she’s talking about when it comes to bloggers and blogging. Her idea of what constitues “developing an online following” is bizarre. DaveKehr.com’s site is currently ranked in the eight millions by Alexa, which means next to no one is reading it. Henry Sheehan doesn’t appear to have updated his site in two years (Alexa puts him in the three millions, so maybe his mom and his best friend are reading it). Emanuel Levy’s site is ranked far higher — in the 300,000s — but still, that’s nothing compared to, oh:

JoBlo’s Movie Emporium (ranked in the 7,000s)

• James Berardinelli (who finally has his own domain!, ranked in the 34,000s)

FilmCritic.com (ranked in the 72,000s)

Mr. Cranky (ranked in the 105,000s)

• or hey, even yours truly: FlickFilosopher.com is ranked in the 184,000s)?

Now, I’m not talking about quality (not that I’m not saying that any of these fine film critics aren’t worth reading). I’m talking about influence, because Anne Thompson is talking about influence. (And to be clear, I’m not putting down Dave Kehr or Henry Sheehan or Emanuel Levy, either, just Thompson’s assessment of their online presence as influential.)

But, whatever, man. What do I know? I’m just a lonely geek sitting here in my pajamas. Seriously: I actually am in my pajamas. But only because I’ve been up working since 6AM and haven’t taken a break yet. What a slacker I am…

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  • David C

    Old Media types can really say astonishing things about the series of tubes that makes up “The Inter-Net.”

    This one is a thing of beauty, on multiple levels:
    “The Googles of the world, they are the Custer of the modern world. We are the Sioux nation,” Time Warner Inc. Chief Executive Richard Parsons said,


    I’m glad I don’t own any Time Warner stock….

    Have you ever noticed that legacy media types like Anne Thompson write as if they’ve never figured out that those words with lines under them on a web site are things you can click on to go somewhere else? I see so many articles where the implication is that the “Web Log of Spheres” has a grand total of three(3) “Web Loggers”: Matt Drudge, Harry Knowles, and Wonkette.

  • bats

    You damn kids! Get off my lawn!
    (Sorry, that’s the best I can come up with in my present brain-dead condition — I’m sure it can be adapted to fit Anne Thompson’s vitriol.)

  • Eric

    I used to read print reviews, until I found two good online critics. Who… because they’re online can take more space to review, can say what they want about anything, and still give it to me for free.

    Also, pretty sure comment lurkers function as de facto copy editors for most online posters.

  • MBI

    As a newspaper critic myself (for a tiny paper no one reads) I’m tempted to say that an online critic is inherently superior to a newspaper critic just because he or she can use phrases like “toxic baby-shit film.”

  • David C

    “Also, pretty sure comment lurkers function as de facto copy editors for most online posters.”

    Oh, yeah, definitely. Bloggers as a whole are *much* better about corrections than the mainstream media. Get facts wrong on a blog, and you’ll usually see prompt, prominent corrections. In the MSM, if they deign to come down from their lofty perch of media infallibility at all, you’ll be lucky to see a tiny one-paragraph correction hidden somewhere on Page A-32 that no one reads.

    (The Daily Bugle’s correction of its Spider-Man coverage was probably the most unrealistic thing in Spider-Man 3. The New York Times would *never* do such a thing!)

  • I’ve been reading your blog for quite some time, and I think your criticism of director Robert Rodriguez can also apply to (most) movie/entertainment blogs. You said,

    And yet [that] singlemindedness does come with a downside: There’s no one, apparently, looking over Rodriguez’s shoulder and saying, “Um, you know, that’s not quite working . . .

    That’s exactly how I feel about most blogs. They’re way too narrow-minded. Most of them are essentially fan sites that are devoted to (over) praising a particular actor, director, or whatever. It borders on irrational. Many of these so-called online movie critics DO NOT deserve respect. I think your blog is an exception. Sometimes having an editor or supervisor isn’t such a bad thing, as pointed out in your review of Once Upon a Time in Mexico. And I’m sorry, but comment lurkers don’t count. Yeah, they’re helpful, but a blogger can easily delete unwanted comments.

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