<B>Thompson on Hollywood</B>
My name is Anne and I’m a blogger.Bloggers come in many shapes and sizes. Some are professional journalists. Others are amateur fanboys. A few create original content, but most riff on other people’s blogs. (At thompsononhollywood.com, I do both.) Some are erudite and write with charm and brio. Others suck. But for better or worse, blogs are here to stay. And they’re reshaping the coverage of films today. Movie publicity may never be quite the same. 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. But the Internet has changed all that. Early Web leaks and misinformation are giving the PR community headaches. When something incorrect is posted, it spreads like wildfire. Too many viral postings from too many unfamiliar sources make it impossible for anyone to return calls, much less ferret out the source of the infection. And then there’s the problem of timing. Bloggers typically reveal nuggets of film info — usually casting announcements — long before agents and studios are prepared to release the information, often because the deals aren’t done. In October 2004, when LatinoReview.com announced newcomer Brandon Routh as the star of “Superman Returns,” it forced Warner Bros. to reluctantly confirm his casting a few days later. And when TMZ.com went full speed ahead and claimed that Emile Hirsch was in talks to star in “Speed Racer,” it turned out to be true. Warners was not happy about either breach. The line between traditional journalism and indie purveyors of buzz continues to blur. That blogger at TMZ.com, which is owned by Warners’ own AOL, doesn’t fit the common stereotype of a lonely geek in sweats hunkered in a dark basement staring into a glowing computer screen. In fact, he was a trade reporter who was competing with his ex-colleagues at Variety for scoops. His advantage: as a blogger, he could post his items faster online. The changing climate has driven daily newsrooms to post breaking news sooner online rather than to wait for their print editions. Even though celebrity-monger TMZ.com has decided to get out of the industry news business and stick to covering the likes of Mel Gibson, Michael Richards and Britney Spears, the cat is out of the bag. News is breaking so fast that PR departments barely have time to draft a press release. Some studios are considering adopting a less reactive stance. While they already mount elaborate Web sites for their movies and even use on-location blogs to sell such fanboy-oriented pictures as “Superman Returns” and “King Kong,” some would like to create their own sites to disseminate breaking news. (Peter Jackson’s interactive theonering.net was the template for building a fan community.) That way, publicists could get their news out in a form that sells their message, without having to rely on intermediaries. Variety broke the news that Shia LaBeouf would star in “Indiana Jones 4,” even though George Lucas and Steven Spielberg had refused to confirm it. But when the filmmakers were ready to make their official announcement (on the verge of the opening of LaBeouf’s “Disturbia”) they posted it on their Web site, IndianaJones.com. What is a blogger, anyway? It’s anyone who posts and updates (usually with daily frequency) a weblog that uses a format provided by such Internet hosts as Blogger, Typepad, Journalspace or Movable Type. The software is so simple that anyone can use the basic templates to instantly post text, photos, videos or music. Most blogs build a community via comments, links and pings to other media and blogs — hence their viral power. Once on the Web, thanks to links, tags, key words and such services as Digg, Reddit and Del.ici.ous (which allow members to post and rate stories), news travels faster than the click of a mouse. That’s where the PR headaches come in. Data on the Web starts from one source, whether it’s a Web site or a blog; it is then picked up and fanned through the Internet and blogosphere through other blogs and aggregators. 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. And millions turn to online content aggregators such as Drudge Report, Slate, Netscape, MSN, AOL, CNN, Yahoo, Breitbart and the Huffington Post. On the movie side, aggregator sites that comment and post links to news stories and blog items (some also break news) include aint-it-cool-news.com, EmpireOnline.com, GreenCine Daily (daily.greencine.com), HollywoodWiretap.com, Movies.com, MovieCityNews.com, NetscapeMovies.com and YahooMovies.com. And then there’s celeb gadfly Perez Hilton, who’s in a category all his own. Film critic aggregator RottenTomatoes.com offers readers their own blogs and posts plenty of its own content, while Metacritic.com sticks to collecting reviews of movies, music and games. Major sites such as IGNFilmForce.com, Scifi.com, CartoonBrew.com, DarkHorizons.com, ComingSoon.net and SuperHeroHype.com both aggregate content and post news, whatever its source. They also host blogs full of new info that is taken down if it turns out to be inaccurate. (Once something lives on the Web, though, it’s tough to eradicate.) In the charming writer category, Mark Lisanti spins and comments five days a week for Gawker Media’s delightfully gossipy — and hugely successful — Defamer.com blog. AOL’s sprawling movie fan blog Cinematical.com is constantly refreshed by a score of bloggers who often chase down their own stories. MovieCityNews.com boasts several bloggers, including webmaster David Poland, whose TheHotBlog posts more thumb-sucking analysis than breaking news. In many ways, Austin-based aint-it-cool-news webmaster Harry Knowles is the prototype of the nonpro geek-at-home fanboy. While not set up as a blog, AICN is both a Web site and aggregator of bloggish postings — rich with virulent breaking content — and passionate reader comments. The studios take full advantage of fan sites and blogs to promote movies. 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.” 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.) New York Magazine and Conde Nast’s Portfolio just launched a rash of new culture blogs. New York Times media writer David Carr conducts video interviews for his seasonal Oscar blog, the Carpetbagger, while the Los Angeles Times’ the Envelope offers party and awards coverage all year long. Such kudos bloggers as Oscarwatch.com’s Sasha Stone have become factors in the Oscar race, because they are read by younger Academy members as well as the media. DreamWorks has accused outspoken blogger Jeffrey Wells of HollywoodElsewhere.com of dive-bombing Oscar hopeful “Dreamgirls” with his negative postings. A former trade journalist, freelancer and avid movie buff, Wells runs his independent Web site and blog. His sources are many and his information is (mostly) solid. Wells ekes out a living off the ads the studios buy on his site. They also provide access to screenings, parties and talent. Wells respects studio release date embargoes because if he didn’t, he’d lose their invites. But Wells sounds off when he feels like it, which means that some studios deal with him gingerly. Sony, for one, has taken him off its screening list (for the second time; he enraged a prior studio management team with a debunked story about a disastrous “Last Action Hero” screening). Wells falls somewhere between enthusiastic fan and dogged film reporter. In other words, he’s a blogger. So is Nikki Finke, another refugee from the journalistic establishment. Her well-read DeadlineHollywoodDaily.com is loosely affiliated with the L.A. Weekly (which publishes her print column), but is owned by Finke. When the studios deal with solo owner-operators such as Poland, Wells or Finke, there is no editor-in-chief or publisher to approach. They are in complete control of their domain. All a movie company can use for leverage is the old threat of withholding advertising — or access. While lack of editorial oversight can yield some “facts” that are merely hearsay or opinion, it also brings an often refreshing candor, a freedom of expression and a lack of politesse. With Poland, Wells and Finke’s burgeoning readers, some folks in Hollywood are finding it difficult to resist their siren call. They feed them and try to spin them. They are as much a part of the entertainment community as the rest of us. And be sure of this: More bloggers are on the way. Contact Anne Thompson at thompsononhollywood.com
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