When Journalists Become Marketing Flacks

Ooof.  Dustin Rowles accurately and mercilessly takes a piss all over Comic Con and film bloggers.

I was both embarrassed of them and for them and, quite frankly, a little disturbed by how easily they were manipulated by studio marketing gimmickry. (For the record, this wasn’t all the movie blogs, of course. Besides our Hall H-less coverage, I saw very even-handed coverage from Film School Rejects, the usual excellent news reporting from The Playlist (with our own Drew Morton helping out), and the always spectacular crass cultural commentary from FilmDrunk, and I’m sure other outlets saw the event for what it was, too: A huge, elaborate, very expensive commercial manufactured to create hype around products).

Granted, this is not a complaint isolated to Comic-Con. The freebies, set visits, the paid trips, and the sycophancy are obviously year-round, though my awareness of it is usually only heightened during big events like Sundance, SXSW, or this. But Comic-Con is different from film festivals in one major respect. At film festivals, film bloggers and critics are often hyping movies they’ve actually seen, and they’re — in effect — helping to get out the good word for movies that don’t yet have a distributor (or, in some cases, crushing some poor indie filmmaker’s dreams). That’s a good critic’s job: To help spread positive word of mouth about great films, especially those that need it most. Comic-Con, on the other hand, is a 4-day marketing event for hundred million dollar films — film bloggers aren’t losing their shit over a finished movie, they’re losing it over a trailer, a poster, or a brief exchange or handshake with a celebrity. They’re doing the marketing department’s job for them: They’re selling a movie to their readers based on the adverts and merchandise. And they’re doing so after being worked up into a whipped frenzy. And the studios love it. It’s exactly what they want. They’ve manipulated the film bloggers into doing their work for them.

What’s nearly as troubling — I think — is also the close relationship that many of the bloggers develop with the filmmakers, which also becomes more obvious during events like Comic-Con, where those very filmmakers are in attendance. It’s a smart marketing move by the filmmakers — Kevin Smith and Edgar Wright, among others, are notoriously good at it — and I don’t blame them for angling for free positive coverage, especially the way they target their attention to those bloggers who would better reach their own target audience. That’s good marketing sense, and I’d do the same thing if I were in their position. It’s the film bloggers who buy into it so readily that concerns me.

For the most part, film bloggers (and most online journalism) have become pliable outlets for marketing companies and PR people to bend and twist at will.  Rowles raises lots of great points about the relationship between art and journalism and how quickly it’s all changed.

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