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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar Voynar@moviecitynews.com

… And Now TechCrunch’s Paul Carr Calls for Moviefone EIC Patricia Chui’s Head on a Platter? Seriously?

What started out as a relatively small battle between TechCrunch and Moviefone has escalated, as TechCrunch’s Paul Carr fired a warning shot over the bow of Moviefone this morning with this piece, which kinda-sorta retracts the previous headline Alexia Tsotsis put up about yesterday about AOL telling her to tone down the snark — and instead posits that Moviefone’s Editor-in-Chief Patricia Chui should resign in shame immediately, or be fired by AOL. Um, WTF?

Okay, folks. Here’s where I’m going to take a turn you maybe weren’t expecting in commentating on this interesting little car wreck and tell Paul Carr that he is completely full of shit here.

First off, I have to note that it’s more than a little bit of throwing stones in glass houses for Paul Carr to be lambasting anyone for journalistic integrity. “Journalists” who build their brand off writing about how they “party hard in hotels” in stories that feature scantily clad women and tales about waking up “stark fucking naked in a hotel corridor, no idea how I got there,” are not really in a position to be talking about journalistic ethics or integrity.

No throwing stones in glass houses, Paul, really.

Anyhow. In Carr’s piece, he actually DEFENDS AOL, Tim Armstong and Arianna Huffington, while slamming Chui for writing a defense of Moviefone (and the staffer who sent the email — who was, presumably, NOT actually Chui herself, if you read her rebuttal). Chui’s post reads, in part:

“The reality of our situation is that, as a movies site, we work with movie studios every day, and it is in our best interests to stay on good terms with them. Staying on good terms with studios means that we will relay information if asked.”

Carr retorts with this:

But if we’re going to attack an entire organization, particularly one that signs our paychecks, we need to be sure we’re on absolutely rock-solid ground. The truth is, for all of AOL’s many faults, they have never once asked us to adjust our content and they have certainly not told us to dial down the snark. They’re hugely dysfunctional but they’re not hugely stupid.

To suggest that a silly email by a staffer at Moviefone is the smoking gun we’ve all been waiting for smacks of boy-who-cried-wolfism, which will make it far harder for us to raise a stink if and when someone with a VP title or above at AOL HQ does ask us to “make a few changes”.

Okay, Paul. I’m going to lay out for you exactly why you are wrong as wrong can be here. And keep in mind that I am speaking here with the knowledge gleaned from four years of working with Moviefone and AOL as Cinematical’s managing editor, so I’m not just speaking out my ass here.

While TechCrunch might like to think it can have its cake and eat it too, the truth is you cannot sell out to a company like AOL (see, that’s what happened when AOL gave TechCrunch a big fat payday to BUY your site out and TechCrunch accepted the deal) without that deal ultimately having repercussions. I know, I know. But you guys have a DEAL with AOL that they don’t control your editorial! I hear you. Guess what? So did Weblogs, Inc, Cinematical’s parent company, and by extension, Cinematical. But the reality is that over time this will begin to erode as AOL sucks your site more and more into the AOL corporate machine. You may not like it, but it is so.

Patricia Chui is not just a stupid little “AOL staffer,” Paul. She’s been around Moviefone for a long time, and she’s survived layoffs and editorial fuck-ups in the past because she knows — obviously better than you do, Paul — exactly how the game is played. You clearly do not, so let me help you out here … and here’s where I step briefly out of defending Patricia Chui and, er, agree to disagree with her, I guess, with regard to Moviefone’s “editorial integrity.”

Moviefone is NOT a journalistic web site. Never has been, never pretended to be. I challenge you to find any negative reviews written by Moviefone staffers — not by Cinematical, which is a different arm entirely, but Moviefone. You won’t find any, because Moviefone is NOT A JOURNALISTIC WEB SITE. Their job is to tell you about movies that are coming out and the movie stars who are in those movies, not what they think about movies — big difference.

Now Chui cops to this, a bit, when she says this in her post:

The person who wrote that email was not acting in an editorial capacity. That person’s job is to act as an intermediary between the studios and editorial — not to dictate content, nor to weigh in on the content of Moviefone or any other AOL site. In fact, the presence of a person with that role is just one means we have of ensuring editorial integrity on Moviefone.

Well, no. It’s not about editorial integrity, Patricia, it’s about maintaining Moviefone’s relationship with the studios, which is WAY more about dollars and cents than anything resembling real editorial freedom or honest critique. Let’s at least call a spade a spade here, when it comes to what Moviefone’s purpose within AOL is.

Moviefone exists to be an extension of the PR arm of studios, period. That is what they do. They do interviews with big stars of big studio pics, they do set visits, they run press releases largely as written by studios. They sell movie tickets, and they make money FROM THE STUDIOS. That is their model.

Please note here: I am not saying or implying that Cinematical follows this model. Cinematical has a different editorial mandate than Moviefone, even as much as they have been absorbed into Moviefone’s generic movie site look and feel. Cinematical still fights to retain their editorial integrity just as the TechCrunch guys do, as much as they can — like you, Paul — without pissing off the guy who signs their paycheck too much. Here’s what Erik Davis, Cinematical’s EIC, had to say about the situation in an email to me this morning:

Naturally it is pretty common for studios to at least ask to tone down something that’s particularly negative – especially if they’ve given you special access (real early screening etc) to that movie — but no one has ever forced me to change a post in order to please a studio. No one was forcing TechCrunch either – Moviefone was just passing along Summits message, leaving it up to TechCrunch to decide what to do editorially.

To say that Patricia Chui and Moviefone are in the studio’s back pocket and therefore that somehow she has violated a boundary of journalistic integrity is, interestingly enough, both stating the obvious and completely moronic.

As Moviefone’s EIC, Patricia Chui is, essentially, a PR person charged with maintaining AOL/Moviefone’s relationships with the studios. She delegated this responsiblity down to the person who sent Alexia the email. That is her job, and when that email was sent to Alexia, however much it might have rubbed you folks the wrong way, Patricia and the staffer who wrote it were doing the job they are paid to do. And if the higher ups fire Patricia Chui for doing what she is EXPECTED to do they are even more reprehensible than I already think they are, which would actually be kind of impressive.

I doubt it, though, Paul, because much as I dislike Tim Armstrong and Arianna Huffington, I don’t actually think either of them are stupid. Ethically questionable, certainly, but not stupid. I more picture the pair of them — if they are even aware of any of this at all — being pleased as punch over traffic numbers being up over this whole business, and maybe snickering over you thinking Moviefone should have journalistic integrity. They’re not going to fire Patricia Chui for doing what she’s paid to do.

But when you say this, Paul:

The problem is Moviefone is no more a representative of AOL Corp than we are. As such, the headline could just as accurately have read “Moviefone asks AOL to tone it down”. An employee of Moviefone sending a dumb email to a TechCrunch writer is not the same as Tim Armstrong sending it, or Arianna Huffington sending it. Yes, it’s a damning indictment of the kind of dumbass hacks that are still inexplicably employed by some of AOL’s content divisions (and who Arianna Huffington has her work cut out to replace), but it’s not an indictment of AOL itself. To suggest otherwise is disingenuous at best, dangerous at worst.

… you are also wrong, wrong, and furthermore? Wrong. Moviefone’s staffer sending that note to Alexia Tsotsis actually IS the same as Tim Armstrong or Arianna Huffington sending it, because Patricia Chui was doing the job as AOL has set up Moviefone to require her to do it. Are you really so obtuse as to think that Patricia Chui single-handedly arranged the relationship between Moviefone and the studios as it currently exists? She worked her way up through the Moviefone ranks precisely because she does the job the higher-ups — the AOL higher-ups, Paul — are paying her to do.

Now, I am not going to argue with you that AOL/Moviefone’s intertwined relationship with studios doesn’t stink to high heaven, Paul, or that it doesn’t make it goddamned hard for the writers over at your sister site, Cinematical, to maintain their editorial integrity on a regular basis. The reality of writing for the movie industry is that the studios control the access and that every publication has to determine for themselves the extent to which they will allow the studios and their dollars to control editorial direction when it comes down, as they say, to brass tacks. I believe Cinematical continues (so far at least) to succeed in fighting this battle, and I also believe that Moviefone is a different animal entirely that never fought it to begin with.

But for you to try to malign and single out Patricia Chui, and to separate Moviefone and its policies from AOL, for you to imply that the policies at Moviefone are not the direct result of deals negotiated by and put in place by the AOL staffers WAY above Patricia Chui’s head … Paul, you are either delusional, or at the very least, very, very misinformed about the politics of the company that now owns TechCrunch … and, by extension, a bit of your own soul, to boot.

And you have your head very deeply buried in the sand of denial if you think that, in the long term (and I’m talking what happens beyond that sweet “stick around for three years” deal TechCrunch got when they sold out to AOL) TechCrunch will remain unimpugned by the long arm of AOL and its policies, all of which are designed, to put it quite simply, to make AOL money.

You’ll be lucky, in the long haul, if Arianna Huffington doesn’t decide that all the TechCrunch writers fall under the heading of “dumbass hacks that are still inexplicably employed by some of AOL’s content divisions” and replace you all with writers who will write for free and not make a big stink about corporate policies negotiated and put in place since before Tim Armstrong even took over as CEO. Moviefone is AOL. Patricia Chui’s paycheck comes from AOL. When she travels on the company dime, her travel is set up through AOL Travel. You cannot just separate the two.

You think Alexia owes apologies and flowers to Tim Armstrong and Arianna Huffington? Pardon me while I wipe the tears of laughter away. Bullshit. Alexia was right the first time, in being a bit incensed that AOL/Moviefone was overstepping the bounds of their contractual obligation to keep their paws off your editorial.

But YOU are wrong to the nth degree here in making this lame attempt to appease the people who sign your freaking paycheck by making Patricia Chui — an AOL staffer just like you and Alexia, whether you are staff or contract over there — the scapegoat for doing exactly the job of managing AOL’s relationship with Summit she is being paid to do.

Shame on you, Paul, for kissing your bosses’ asses while making a staffer who’s just trying to keep her job in the midst of layoffs the scapegoat for AOL and Moviefone’s policies.

7 Responses to “… And Now TechCrunch’s Paul Carr Calls for Moviefone EIC Patricia Chui’s Head on a Platter? Seriously?”

  1. Senh says:

    Looks like sibling rivalry to me. Only Mommy (Arianna) and Daddy (Armstrong) can me what to do…

  2. DB says:

    I agree with this so much. Paul’s outcry against Chui is like trying to get a radio DJ fired for only playing Clear Channel programming. Completely ridiculous.

    AOL is not independent media, and rather than demand that good people lose their jobs can’t we just have a healthy debate about the influence of the studios in mainstream media?

    Patricia Chui is not the problem. Leave her alone.

  3. Senh says:

    It’s kinda lame that they didn’t discuss this internally rather than putting it all out in the public. I’m on Chui’s side. If I was a part of AOL, I wouldn’t want to work with the guys at Techcrunch. They seem kinda immature and volatile. This episode makes them look bad.

  4. Kim Voynar says:

    Senh, the thing is that TechCrunch IS a part of AOL now, however much they might prefer not to be at this point. The problem is, you can’t have your cake and eat it to, which is what the TechCrunch team seems to want: A big fat payday for selling out to AOL, without the consequences of being a part of AOL.

    Unfortunately, as Weblogs learned back in 2005, you can’t have it both ways. Choices have consequences. And I fully expect, once that three year “stick-around” clause runs out for TechCrunch, that a good many of them will bail the hell out of there, which will clear the way for AOL to assimilate TechCrunch into their corporate mold.

  5. chops woo says:

    No one liked her anyway. She made everyone’s life difficult at AOL. Thank goodness she was fired.

  6. Kim Voynar says:

    That’s an unfair generalization, Ms. Woo. It may be fair to say that YOU didn’t like Patricia, or that some people she worked with had issues with her, but it’s certainly not true that “no one liked her anyway.” I worked with Patricia and liked her, and I can tell you that my former Cinematical colleagues, particularly Scott Weinberg and Erik Davis, thought very highly of Patricia and were upset at the way she was fired.

    So no, I wouldn’t say “thank goodness she was fired,” myself. Patricia got caught up in a maelstrom of politics and corporate BS, but in MY opinion (which is certainly not everyone’s and you are entitled to your own), it was AOLs loss, and Patricia is much better off out of that place.

Politics

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“Ten years ago at Telluride, I said on a panel that theatrical distribution was dying. It seemed obvious to me. I was surprised how many in the audience violently objected: ‘People will always want to go to the movies!’ That’s true, but it’s also true that theatrical cinema as we once knew it has died. Theatrical cinema is now Event Cinema, just as theatrical plays and musical performances are Events. No one just goes to a movie. It’s a planned occasion. Four types of Event Cinema remain.
1. Spectacle (IMAX-style blockbusters)
2. Family (cartoon like features)
3. Horror (teen-driven), and
4. Film Club (formerly arthouse but now anything serious).

There are isolated pockets like black cinema, romcom, girl’s-night-out, seniors, teen gross-outs, but it’s primarily those four. Everything else is TV. Now I have to go back to episode five of ‘Looming Tower.'”
~ Paul Schrader

“Because of my relative candor on Twitter regarding why I quit my day job, my DMs have overflowed with similar stories from colleagues around the globe. These peeks behind the curtains of film festivals, venues, distributors and funding bodies weren’t pretty. Certain dismal patterns recurred (and resonated): Boards who don’t engage with or even understand their organization’s artistic mission and are insensitive to the diverse neighborhood in which their organization’s venue is located; incompetent founders and/or presidents who create only obstacles, never solutions; unduly empowered, Trumpian bean counters who chip away at the taste and experiences that make organizations’ cultural offerings special; expensive PR teams that don’t bring to the table a bare-minimum familiarity with the rich subcultural art form they’re half-heartedly peddling as “product”; nonprofit arts organizations for whom art now ranks as a distant-second goal behind profit.”
~ Eric Allen Hatch