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Ethics Corner: TWO THUMBS DOWN ON BLURBING, U.S.A

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Ethics Corner: TWO THUMBS DOWN ON BLURBING, U.S.A

Article excerpt

This is about The Blurbing of America, where film critics are packaged by the film studios, aided by newspaper advertising departments hungry for the full- page ads that are part of huge movie budgets. The salespeople even send out advance copies of their newspaper's reviews or feature stories to studios, to give them extra time to prepare promotional or advertising copy. Or perhaps to warn them that their movie might be panned.

For example, The New York Times e-mails its movie reviews to studio publicists three hours before they are posted on the news-

paper's Web site. The Times claims that its editorial integrity is not compromised because the reviews are already locked into the printing process, and can't be changed. But the message is clear: the alleged firewall between the newspaper's business and editorial sections has been breached.

The arts sections of many big-city newspapers are replete with advertising blurbs which studio ad agencies surgically remove from the critics' reviews. There is evidence that many critics and the publications they work for enjoy the notoriety that those blurbs bring to them.

When Rolling Stone interviewed writers for the critic's job that eventually went to Peter Travers, the magazine made it known that it wanted its reviewer to be featured in newspaper ads, according to numerous journalists. The reasoning was obvious: Rolling Stone saw the blurbs as free advertisements for itself, as well as a selling point with studio ad agencies.

Travers has made it big in Blurb Journalism, by some counts second only to Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper, the "Two Thumbs Up" guys. Newspaper critics often allege the dynamic duo of Ebert & Roeper, both of whom work for the Chicago Sun-Times, are studio-friendly because their syndicated television show and annual Film Festival at Sea are sponsored by Disney.

Stephen Holden, a New York Times film critic, said that kind of relationship would not be tolerated by his superiors. "That's a clear conflict of interest," Holden told me. "That's dangerous. But that's the world we live in today. Our newspaper would never approve that arrangement."

But Ebert and Roeper say the world they live in is devoid of any conflicts. "I'm on the level," Ebert responded. "I've won the Pulitzer Prize. …

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