Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Latest Variety Show

During the last week or so, a war of words has flared up between trade publication Variety and entertainment blogger Nikki Finke. On March 23, Variety ran three different stories that, in different ways, attacked the practices employed by bloggers generally and Finke in particular.

No sooner had these two sites begun to attack each other than many other journalists and bloggers jumped in to offer their own take on the conflict. Among those who expressed distinctive opinions were David Poland (The Hot Blog), Sharon Waxman (The Wrap), and Kim Masters (The Daily Beast).

The reasons why this conflict arose of less interest to me than how it has played out so far. In a broad sense, the Variety-Finke brouhaha echoes the turf wars going on between traditional print journalists and Internet bloggers on every news beat.

Yet the particularities of this conflict are fascinating in a couple of key ways. First, this skirmish is notable for the response -- or rather, the lack of response -- it has generated from readers. From what I can tell, the general reaction across the different sites that covered the issue seemed to be "Who cares? Why should some silly battle between (narcissistic) entertainment journalists matter to me?"

As but one example, take Huffington Post. The online website tried to make this conflict into A Big Deal. Their article on the quarrel briefly appeared on the site's front page...only to all-but-disappear after but a few hours. It seems that this is but one more instance in which those covering the entertainment world have a distorted sense of how and why people come to their sites in the first place.

The second reason this conflict seems worth commenting on is due to how it ties into my own work as a media scholar. Yes, I enjoy looking at a variety of entertainment sites in part to learn more about what is going on in the entertainment business -- what is being made, who is doing what, and so on. But of even greater interest to me is tracking the way the "industry" presents itself -- how different people try to promote their interests, spin different issues, and construct the business in certain ways. Yet it is frustrating that as these sites become ever-more obsessed with being the first to report a deal, offer a review of a new movie, or break the news of an executive's departure, their energies gets diverted away from substantive analysis.

What's more, in the rush to run something first, the quality of the reporting gets sketchier and sketchier. Finke has been widely attacked in part because she has been seen as the mouthpiece for various executives with specific agendas, as well as for her lack of transparency in reporting (for example, she has been attacked for running a story and then, if she finds out the information is incomplete or incorrect, she simply removes that information or changes it to fit the latest news.)

Again, these issues certainly are not particular to entertainment journalism but rather are concerns facing all areas of journalism today. And clearly there is often much more at stake when, for instance, health or environmental reports are handled in an irresponsible fashion. Yet it is nonetheless worth considering how the public's -- and media researchers' -- understanding of the entertainment business might be affected as old and new media attempt to stake out their place in this changing landscape. What's more, given that this is the entertainment business -- a business in which so many careers and creative projects are at stake, not to mention a great deal of money -- it seems that we should care more about what constitutes entertainment news... and what are the best ways to report it.

The Finke-Variety conflict simply underscores the extent to which entertainment reporters and bloggers have become more interested in being first than being accurate, more invested in reporting a deal than thinking about precisely what that deal might mean for those working in (or wishing to work in) the media industries.

No comments:

Post a Comment