Journalist Rips 'Source Code' Arm Twisting

By Robert Marich
   March 16, 2011—A journalist for news website TechCrunch, which is owned by AOL, went public with an internal request sent by AOL asking that the journalist's article “tone down” a “snarky tone” about the Summit Entertainment film The Source Code, which is scheduled to premiere April 1.
   Alexia Tsotsis posted an intercompany memo from an AOL executive (AOL also owns MovieFone) complaining about her story at a press junket at a film festival SXSW, where the movie premiered. Source Code, which stars Jake Gyllenhaal, has a computer thread running through the plot (and title!), hence TechCrunch—which is best known for covering tech business and tech investment—posted some editorial material about the film.
   “I thought that the way The Source Code and Summit Entertainment were trying to target the tech press and, through us, our more social media savvy readers was an intriguing marketing strategy—and an angle!” wrote Tsotsis. “I wrote my ‘Jake Gyllenhaal Movie The Source Code Markets Itself To Techies’ post about that instead of turning it into a free ad for the film...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.”
   The story at issue is a description and commentary of a game Summit placed on Facebook to promote the film.
   Tsotsis continues about the AOL complaint received later: “The most ridiculous part about this whole episode is that the post in question wasn’t even that ‘snarky,’ whatever the hell that means. I mean it’s not like I wrote ‘Movie Studio Creates ‘Game’ In Order To Get People To Spam Their Friends On Facebook’ in the headline.”
   Readers commenting about the post expressed different views. Some congratulate the journalist for going public about corporate pressure (TechCrunch promised to let its readers know of corporate directives designed to influence editorial when it sold itself to AOL). Others say it is a tempest in a tea pot.
   If Summit let its displeasure known to AOL, that’s normal procedure. If there is a villain, it might be AOL for reacting to outside pressure. The flap came out of a junket, which is a “press event held at a single location—hence the efficiency—where talent sits for interviews and photos for rotating waves of journalists,” says Marketing to Moviegoers: Second Edition. The book details that some journalists are actually required to sign written agreements not to “disparage” the stars personally or publish any coverage about personal lives, in order to get into junkets.
   In the digital world where anyone can post a comment, complaint or article, such pushback from journalists will certainly become more common place.
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