×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Beware the false intimacy of social media

Shift creeps into relationship between entertainment press, their subjects

In a recent study, the USC Annenberg Center for the Digital Future observed that many modern blessings come at a price in “extraordinary demands on our time, major concerns about privacy and vital questions about the proliferation of technology — including a range of issues that didn’t exist 10 years ago,” as director Jeffrey Cole summarized it.

Among the many side effects is a perceptible shift creeping into the relationship between entertainment press and their subjects, which seems worth discussing heading into another TV Critics Assn. tour, which, in the parlance of the day, throws Tweet-ers together with Tweet-ees.

Social media remains new enough to receive credit and blame for lots of things — good and bad — that are frequently overblown. Indeed, as new research from Knowledge Networks noted, evidence of social media’s ability to enhance “interest, viewership and loyalty for TV programs” has been “decidedly mixed,” suggesting all those elaborate schemes to sell shows via Twitter and Facebook are likely premature.

On another front, though, it’s clear social media has eroded boundaries that once separated journalists from their sources and subject matter — helping foster a false sense of familiarity that, if you listen carefully during press junkets and conference calls, has oozed its way into the dialogue.

Of course, this implied intimacy and chumminess can be terrific for anyone marketing a product — including TV series, movies or the actual talent themselves — where forging such bonds potentially strengthens a connection with consumers. It is, however, a lousy development for journalists, who — even if they’re in the opinion business — derive a good measure of their credibility from the perspective that ideally comes with distance and objectivity, or at least the appearance of not having a dog in the fight.

The very nature of social media encourages and facilitates breaking down those walls — they don’t call it “coolly detached” media, after all — just as the brevity of a forum like Twitter tends to strip nuance from conversation. With so many voices clamoring to get noticed, things tend to get exaggerated — transforming mere preferences into powerful likes and dislikes, and inflating the latter into rhetorical love-hate relationships.

Perhaps that’s why it’s so easy to wince now listening to journalists preface questions by telling an actor or filmmaker how much they love their work, or blatantly gushing in some other manner. Privately at an HBO party, fine, let that inner fanboy fly. In a room filled with colleagues, it’s embarrassing. To borrow an image from (very) old movies, try keeping one foot on the floor.

With that in mind, here are five rules of engagement meant to help guide reporters through this maze, realizing that while most know better, some obviously don’t. So please, don’t….

•Begin a question with a fawning, complimentary preamble longer than the movie or pilot which brought said journalist and talent together in the first place.

•Confuse the actor with their character, or refer to their fictional alter ego — even in a Tweet — as if it’s a real person. Not only does it make you sound like a pre-teenage girl, but it’s actually insulting to the performer, whose job is to pretend being someone they’re not.

•Get too cute in seeking to entertain. You’re ostensibly there seeking information to convey, not on stage at the Laugh Factory auditioning for a spot on Letterman.

•Ask actors what they’d like to see happen with their characters or how said persona would behave in a given situation. If you’re credentialed to attend TCA (admittedly, not the highest bar), at a minimum you ought to understand the division of labor between actors and writers-producers.

•Sound like a petulant, jilted lover if you don’t approve of how a series closed its season. Remember, you just write about TV shows; you’re not actually dating them.

“We find tremendous benefits in online technology, but we also pay a personal price for those benefits,” Cole said in the Annenberg report. “The question is: How high a price are we willing to pay?”

Journalism has already paid heavy tolls, economically and qualitatively, as admittance to the information age. But with a dollop of restraint, dignity and self-respect don’t have to be among the casualties.

More Voices

  • Tom Hanks Mr Rogers A BEAUTIFUL

    Tom Hanks' Portrayal of Mister Rogers May Put Him Back in Oscar's 'Neighborhood'

    Sony recently hosted a SAG-AFTRA screening of “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” the Marielle Heller-directed drama starring Matthew Rhys as a magazine writer who befriends Fred Rogers, played by Tom Hanks. While the screening didn’t include a guild Q&A with cast or the film’s creative team, the audience was greeted with a video message from [...]

  • Joe Pesci, Al Pacino, Martin Scorsese,

    Martin Scorsese and 'The Irishman' Enter Oscar Race With World Premiere at NYFF

    Even with its three-hour run time and a short 28 days in theaters before it’s available on Netflix, Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” is likely to be a major contender at the Oscars. The 57th New York Film Festival opened on Friday night with the world premiere of the epic real-life mob drama. Scorsese and his [...]

  • Brad Pitt Once Upon a Time

    How Much Does Hitting the Awards Season Circuit Really Matter to Stars Like Brad Pitt?

    “Do you want an Oscar?” That’s the first question one top awards consultant asks any potential contender when they first start talking. Everyone is wondering how Brad Pitt would answer that question these days. He recently raised eyebrows and made headlines when he proclaimed that he would not be campaigning this awards season. “Oh, man. I’m [...]

  • Renee Zellweger'Judy' film premiere, Arrivals, Samuel

    'Judy's' L.A. Premiere: Renée Zellweger Takes Another Ruby Step Toward the Oscars

    Renée Zellweger continues to follow the yellow brick road to the Oscars. The Los Angeles premiere of Judy on Thursday night in Beverly Hills kept the Academy Award winner on track for a possible second win come February. “We’re just so happy we’re able to share it with you tonight,” Zellweger said to the crowd [...]

  • Barry Bill Hader

    Emmys 2019: Clear Favorites and Top Challengers for This Year's Winners (Column)

    If this felt like the longest, most expensive Emmy campaign in history, you might be right. For one thing, the 2019 Primetime Emmys will be held Sept. 22, which is the latest the ceremony has taken place since 2013. That also happened to be the last year of TV’s quaint, pre-streaming era, before outlets like [...]

  • Fleabag Succession Emmys

    Could 'Fleabag' and 'Succession' Be Spoilers on Emmy Night? (Column)

    At the onset, this year’s Emmy Awards felt a bit anticlimactic, as the final seasons of “Game of Thrones” and “Veep” appeared to have this year’s drama and comedy categories locked up before campaigning even began. But that’s how upsets happen: Just when we’re pretty confident about how things might go, a couple of wild [...]

  • Climate Mobilization

    Marshall Herskovitz: Why the Climate Crisis Needs Movie Marketing-Style Muscle

     I’ve lived inside the climate-communications conundrum for 20 years, working with scientists, academics and activists to find ways to convince Americans that something they couldn’t see or feel was nevertheless a looming catastrophe worth upending their lives to fight. Now the climate crisis is undeniable, and we are finally seeing the beginnings of concerted action. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content