By David Poland email@example.com
On Patrick Goldstein
So Patrick Goldstein is no longer a movie industry columnist.
I don’t know exactly how to feel. I think it is absurd to suggest that there will be a hole left in the coverage in the industry, as in the last few years, Patrick has become less of a reporter and more of a self-reflective stenographer.
I got along with Patrick early in my 15 years as a columnist-then-blogger. He was quite nice about my work and we had pleasant communications, even when I disagreed with him publicly. That changed with the birth of MCN, 10 years ago, and particularly our headlines, which I wrote almost exclusively for the first 5 years of the site’s existence. He did not like being smacked in headlines. And from then on, there has been a nasty edge to the relationship, in real life and in print.
I give the man, Parrick, a lot of credit for reaching out (when we ran into each other at SBIFF) after the birth of my son. Very decent. But by then, there had been years of angry, arrogant “those fucking blogs” rhetoric from Patrick and his LAT sidekick, John Horn. There was wildly overstated mockery. There were, quite literally, lies about my business that were not researched (as in calling and asking about some very specific claims) and my response was buried on Christmas Day after the paper refused to retract the falsehoods that LAT printed. And there was blocking of potential business relationships with LAT that might have been mutually beneficial to this day.
That said, I believe that people are basically decent, that people get caught up in the moment, and that fear of losing one’s status drives people mad. That last one is, for me, one of the true dangers of journalism in this era. We are in the middle of a major transition and I don’t think we’re close to having the kind of media we will see stabilize in the years to come. One of the things slowing the process is Legacy Media holding on to every inch of turf it can, mo matter what the price.
You know, we can bullshit about it all we like, but the reason Patrick – he’s not alone – never really converted to the Internet is simple. He didn’t do the work. He can be doubtful about the value of the way much of what floats around the web is lazy or uninteresting. But if he wrote as few as three challenging, thoughtful, unemcumbered-by-his-lunch-schedule pieces a week, he could have been a big internet success and potentially, an important voice. He had all the built-in advantages of Legacy Media.
Instead, we got Avi Lerner’s film criticism, polls of his neighborhood kids, demands on Home Entertainment based on what he personally wanted, never seriously considering the price the industry would pay for so indulging him. We got the view from Table 6 at The Grill, whether he was towing the line for those who befriended hm in the name of using his column or when he was being a renegade and telling those same people why he thought they might be wrong. But instead of becoming another Carr, he became a bit of a cartoon.
Patrick and I come from, roughly, the same generation of movie industry journalists. Back 20 years ago, there was no internet to speak of, people were paid a lot more for doing a lot less, and the pool of potential employers was quite small, really. For film coverage, there were The Trades (two!), NY & LA Timeses, a bit of hands-on coverage in the Chicago Tribune and some of the other Top 15 markets, the general interest magazines – Time, Newsweek, New York, New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Esquire, Playboy, the young EW – a handful of alt-weeklies, and the gossip rags.
Status was derived, back then, from where you worked and how you were valued by the outlet… freelance, contract, full-time, editor-in-title, actual editor. Columnists earned their way to those slots. The idea of a journalist offering their own voice and opinions out them right near the top of the food chain.
But being near the top of the food chain is a dangerous place for a journalist to live. That’s one of the reasons why most people who move up in that system get further behind the scenes (or used to). In politics, the danger is that you become an operative, even if unintended, of those with the political bent you favor. In sports, the danger is becoming too close to the teams you cover, either fighting for or against them while pretending to be objective.
In the entertainment media business, the seduction of being “part of the family” is very real. Unlike politics or sports, the public face of “playing” tends to be about short bursts – movies opening, promotion, awards – while the daily grind is kept behind the scenes. When journalists are not being awed by a big new gross or a shiny award or world media domination for a month, it is easy to feel like the talent you meet is just going to work with a lunch bucket, just like you. For the price of lunch at the Polo Lounge – which your paper used to cover without a blink – you can step into their world. You can put on the tuxedo or gown and say “hello” at fancy parties, just like you belong. When you work for what is deemed a Major Outlet, your calls get answered pretty quickly and you might just think that it’s because you have “a relationship.” And sometimes you do. But mostly, the speed of a return call is measured by the amount of concern the call-ee has with what you might print and how many people they know might end up reading it the next day/week/month.
I do, for the record, think people in this industry work very, very hard. But it’s not the same as the work of journalists (at least those earning under $1m a year). Whether they are earning 8-figure checks or just being handed 8 or 9 figures to make a movie with, it is a different level of responsibility and reward. You see, if Ryan Seacrest had a single journalistic bone in his body, he would never have become Ryan Seacrest. That’s not a criticism. That’s just reality. You can’t be a trained monkey one day and the organ grinder the next. Just doesn’t work that way.
Patrick, in the last decade, has lived as deep in the “part of things” hole as anyone. A weekly bully pulpit at the paper that has a Company Town section. Paid very well. Seemingly unfireable. Writing one 1000-word column a week. His subject was anything film related,so everything was research. High-level people wanted him to either do their bidding or to be in their pocket if something went wrong, so they wouldn’t be slaughtered.
But there is a problem when you start making a top-notch living for not working very hard and not having very much real accountability. You get lazy. You get complacent. You mistake your very real skills as a reporter for being personally insightful. And eventually, you become the bore that you always feared you would be.
Some of you might now be sharpening your “nice description of yourself, Poland,” comments as you read. Okay. But that is my accountability. I have, for 15 years now, understood that as the price of admission for my career of self-indulgence… a career I built without much more than said self-indugence and hard work, no cover of a major outlet or, when this journey started, even a major medium. And I think Patrick understood and appreciated that price early on… until he had so much working in his favor that there was something to lose. He had, as was said by Costner via Mamet, became what he beheld.
He’s not the first. He won’t be the last.
In the bigger picture, Patrick symbolizes the dying light of the last generation of Legacy Journalism. There is a mindset about a hierarchy that just won’t quit amongst those who lived it. They protect and defend their own. They tend to see themselves as a social class. As one old guy used to say, “It’s us versus them. We’re in the bunker together.”
Uh, no we’re not.
It has always been my position that so long as I feel comfortable enough in my arrogance to opine about the work of others – on camera, off camera, and behind the scenes – it would be endlessly hypocritical for me to not expect the same in return and with equal, if not greater force… since I, in actually, produce nothing except for my opinions and a gathering of the opinions and facts of others.
When I forget myself and what I am, I will, because I have earned a little status, be able to coast for a year or two… and then, I will be done.
And now, Patrick is done.
He will land somewhere, being paid half of what he was supposed to be worth a couple of years ago. But unless he regains the perspective he had before the internet ruined everything, he is all but retired now. Buy a pipe and write a book.
I would LOVE for Patrick to come back strong. (For that matter, I would love almost every journalist or institution I have ever criticized on this blog to come back strong, Even Nikki.) I think he is very smart and very capable. But he’s been on the dole for a lot of years. It’s hard to get over that and to not be bitter and to become the best you have ever been.
Roger Ebert, who always worked his ass off, but did become a guy with an awfully high perch, is doing the best work of his life. He almost died and is still handicapped by that illness. And he still works his ass off. So getting fired by the LA Times… not much of an excuse.
Hell, I’d be happy to house Patrick’s inevitable blog here at MCN. I’d be happy to generate an income for him here. I’d be happy to stay far, far out his way or to work very closely.
But I do know this.
He’d have to rebuild and earn an audience every day, every week, and every month. That’s the ethic of 2012 media with few cushy exceptions left. The internet has shrunk the media industry, but it has also torn it down to its roots. Writing news or about news is a lunch bucket profession once again, no matter how you dress it up. And it’s time to make the donuts. It’s ALWAYS time to make the donuts.