Question: Would The Hollywood Reporter sneak into Sony Pictures late at night, grab the director’s rough cut of a new movie, then publish a review of it the next morning?
No. They’d lose all credibility and respect of the filmmakers and studio folks who constitute their readership. There would be outrage.
Instead, The Hollywood Reporter (like its fellow “trade” newspaper, Variety) waits to review movies in their finished form — or at least, in a public screening, such as a film festival. The reviews aren’t always positive, but the circumstances surrounding the review are fair.
Would The Hollywood Reporter run a review of a script in production?
Highly doubtful. To my knowledge, they’ve never done so. Likely, that’s because they recognize what a disservice that is to the filmmakers. Movies change significantly over the course of production. Reviewing the screenplay while the movie’s in production would be (in my opinion) worse than reviewing a rough cut, because it’s not acknowledging the role the director, actors and other departments play.
So I was concerned to see this entry in the Hollywood Reporter’s blog:
Thanks to Stax, IGN FilmForce’s resident Bond maven, for this link to a description of the new James Bond script. If you don’t want to read the spoilers, don’t go there!
If you followed the link to IGN, you’d see it’s actually another link to Latino Review, which has the actual article. To be clear: The Hollywood Reporter blog didn’t publish a review of the script. They published a link, which in turn led to another link.
Still, this seemed pretty unusual for The Hollywood Reporter. So I called Anne Thompson, the deputy editor whose picture runs alongside the text on the blog. We had a good conversation about her decision to include the piece, and the challenging distinction between capital-J journalism and what happens on the internet. She was thoughtful and forthright, and ultimately revised the piece to remove the link — one of the real benefits of the digital age.
I consider that specific issue resolved, and thank Anne for attending to it so quickly.
Part of the reason the issue resonated for me is that I’m in the middle (okay, beginning) of writing a public lecture that I’m giving in a few weeks as Trinity University. I had to announce my lecture title months ago, so I picked: “Professional Writing and the Rise of the Amateur.” And this is certainly a good example.
It is easy to empathize with the frustrations of a professional journalist who gets “scooped” by film geeks still in high school. Writing under a pseudonym at Ain’t It Cool News, YoMamasBeeeotch can spill all the dirt on an upcoming James Cameron project, without the burdens of truth, accuracy or grammar. When criticized, these writers generally fall back on the defense of, “I’m not a professional journalist! I’m just a fan who wants great movies!”
The central question of my lecture — for which I don’t currently have a meaningful answer — is what does it mean to be a professional writer? It can’t just be getting paid, because in the age of AdSense, the blogger can out-earn the reporter. It’s not the size of the readership, because many blogs attract more eyeballs than traditional papers do.
My hunch is that the distinction between professional and amateur lies in the implied contract between writer and reader. The professional writer is promising a certain level of accuracy, consistency and forthrightness.
That’s why I chafed at seeing that link in The Hollywood Reporter, when I wouldn’t have blinked an eye if it were in CHUD. But these are murky times.