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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar Voynar@moviecitynews.com

AOL/Moviefone Editor Asks TechCrunch to Tone Down the Snark?

So there was an interesting little editorial kerfuffle over at TechCrunch, which you might recall from our handy-dandy AOL timeline of acquisitions and cannings, was acquired by AOL back in September 2010 (actually, it was more late September).

The scuffling started when TechCrunch writer Alexia Tsotsis interviewed Jake Gyllenhaal and Duncan Jones about the film The Source Code at SXSW. She posted the video interview along with a piece she wrote up about called “Jake Gyllenhaal Movie ‘The Source Code’ Markets Itself To Techies.”

Now really, it was pretty clever of Alexia to take advantage of being at SXSW for the Interactive element, seeing a relevant movie tie-in with a film playing over at the Film side of the fest, and finding an angle for a cross-platform interview, right? Now, pop on over there and watch the video interviews with Jake Gyllenhaal and Duncan Jones (they’re short-ish), and while you’re there read over the accompanying text. I’ll wait right here and watch some more earthquake/exploding nuclear power plant coverage on CNN while you’re away …

… Okay, back? Now, maybe it’s just me, but I didn’t find anything in either the videos or the accompanying post that I would view as overly snarky or in any way detrimental to the film — at least insofar as it’s no more snarky than anything else Alexia writes for TechCrunch. Certainly, I don’t see anything that would have prompted the AOL Overlords Alexia’s connnection at Moviefone to email her this:

Hey Alexia,

Hope you’re having a good time at SxSW and that it’s not been too crazy busy for you!

First wanted to thank you for covering Source Code/attending the party, etc. But also wanted to raise a concern that Summit had about the piece that ran. They felt it was a little snarky and wondered if any of the snark can be toned down? I wasn’t able to view the video interviews but I think their issue is just with some of the text. Let me know if you’re able to take another look at it and make any edits. I know of course that TechCrunch has its own voice and editorial standards, so if you have good reasons not to change anything that’s fine, I just need to get back to Summit with some sort of information. Let me know.

Thanks!

Me again. Okay, I have a couple thoughts on this. First, back in October, when TechCrunch sold themselves to AOL, Michael Arrington reassured the site’s loyal user base that AOL (which would include Moviefone) would keep their grubby corporate paws off editorial. From Arrington’s post dated September 28, 2010:

So at that point we were basically sold. But AOL was very aggressive about one last important issue that really sealed the deal – editorial.

Tim told me that he doesn’t want whatever makes TechCrunch special to go away. He also said it was important that we feel free to criticize AOL when we think they deserve it. And the agreement we signed with AOL fully reflects this.

Okay, so. Moviefone sends Alexia a passive-aggressive note to tone down the snark (note that the tone of the note is carefully crafted to make it seem like “Hiya! Whoops, hey! No! We’re not dipping our toes in your editorial wading pool! Just touching base about this one teensy little thing …”

Now, in all fairness, since Alexia works in tech journalism and probably hasn’t dealt with movie business people a whole lot, I do have to say this: The movie industry is a different world than tech. And probably
it came down something like this:

Some higher up at the studio didn’t like something, bitched about it until it traveled down the food chain to someone who was told to look into it, who sent a note or made a phone call to their contact at Moviefone to say, hey, can you look into this? Maybe do me a solid and smooth it over? And that person sent Alexia an email, being careful because of the “hands-off” editorial policy to say, hey, if you have an editorial reason for being snarky, cool, just tell me that so I can pass that back up the food chain, and by the time it works its way back up to the source, hopefully everyone will have downed a bunch of beer at SXSW parties and forgotten all about it.”

That, realistically, is about how it works.

Now, honestly, I don’t find anything about either the video or the original post all that snarky. Maybe Summit isn’t grokking the techie angle, or whoever got in a tiff there to begin with just doesn’t know who this Alexia chick is and why a tech blog was approved for a video interview with their talent or something. Who the hell knows. Weirder things have happened around publicity for a film at a fest.

If Summit or Moviefone thought the original post was “too snarky,” I can imagine the blood pressure points that shot up over Alexia’s response, in which she says, in part, “Apparently, the post was not enough of a blowjob for Summit, and they let it be known to the AOL person at Moviefone who hooked us up with them in the first place.

As an aside, I love how some of the commenters are taking her to task for using the word “blowjob.” Sorry, but if the word “blowjob” as it applies to the ethical precipice on which the relationship among studios, publicists and press delicately balances is offensive to you, you’re either pretty thin-skinned or you haven’t been around this industry much. Blowjobs, back-scratches, reach-arounds and “solids” are the currency that oils the gear of this business, however much we all try to avoid crossing that boundary between PR and press.

The headline about AOL asking Alexia to “tone down the snark” is maybe bordering on hyperbole, but just barely. They did send the email, they did ask if she could tone it down. They didn’t count on her publishing it, but tough cookies. So it goes. Alexia might not get another invite to a movie party, at least not through her Moviefone contact, but whatever … it’s not every day that there’s a cross-over like that for her to find an angle on anyhow.

So what do you think? Is TechCrunch making a bigger deal of the perceived heavy-handedness of its overlords than is merited by the actual email? Or did Moviefone cross the line and deserve a smackdown for it?

Note:

… More coming very shortly on TechCrunch’s Paul Carr calling for Moviefone Editor-in-Chief Patricia Chui’s head on a freaking platter.

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