It's the classic story of an all-powerful empire battling upstart rebels who want more freedom for the masses. Words have been exchanged, lines have been drawn, and the most sizable battle in this war is under way. It's the kind of plot that would make for a great movie — but who'd break the casting news?
Recently, Collider.com Editor in Chief Steven Weintraub fired a shot across the bow of Daily Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, two traditional media magazines that have been covering the film industry for a combined 181 years. After providing untold thousands of links to the trade magazines' sites when referencing news they first reported, Weintraub and several other popular film Web sites formally declared that they were sick of not being given the same courtesy.
Now, a fast-growing number of "new media" sites are boycotting the "old media" magazines that pioneered film journalism. And things are starting to get ugly.
"The battle is worth fighting, because we're doing actual journalism, and we don't get the credit we deserve," insisted Weintraub, whose site launched in July 2005 and has since broken major stories of film deals, castings and behind-the-scenes drama. "Unlike the trades, we have to fight to land any story."
"There's inevitable resentment between the bloggers and Variety," Variety Editor in Chief Peter Bart said. "If someone has a big story in the entertainment business, the first thing they are going to do is get it to Variety. They are not going to start saying, 'Which bloggers can we feed?' "
Although there have been plenty of incidents over the years leading up to this war, the breaking point came recently when two movie stories broke. On May 24, 2007, Collider.com broke the news of the development of a "Lone Ranger" movie, which The Hollywood Reporter reported as news 10 months later without any acknowledgement. Around the same time, LatinoReview.com unraveled a cryptic quote that "Juno" director Jason Reitman had given to MTV.com about his next project to expose his attachment to the book "The Air Up There," only to have their investigative work picked up by Variety, without mention of the seven-year-old Web site.
"We are damn good at what we do, and deserve some common courtesy," Latino Review reporter "El Mayimbe" said of the Reitman story. "Link to [the trades] every day? No, we won't."
"The Latino Review situation was like an electric current to the testes," sighed Clint Morris of MovieHole.net. "You can't help but get worked up about that. You go to work, you sweat over your job, you go home. Who gets your pay and credit? The fat f--- down the road with front-row tickets to the Celine Dion concert."
As of this writing, Collider's boycott effort has been joined by such well-traveled geek sites as Latino Review, FilmSchoolRejects.com, ScreenRant.com, SlashFilm.com, FirstShowing.net, IESB.net, MovieHole.net and Bloody-Disgusting.com. As it continues to gain momentum, the boycott could cut into the significant traffic sent to Variety.com and HollywoodReporter.com by sites that once linked to them several times a week.
"Print still holds its own," Bart said of the state of his magazine, as this boycott was getting under way. "With all the [Internet] change, the circulation of Variety is just where it was 30 years ago."
"If anything, this will send a message to Peter Bart and the higher-ups at Variety that we do exist," explained Neil Miller, executive editor of Film School Rejects. "We should be recognized, and we are not going to stand for this blatant disrespect that they have shown us as independent movie Web sites."
"You can't link to everybody; there's a lot of cyberspace," Bart countered. "Absolutely, we do link to a lot of people, and on the rare cases when someone beats us, we are delighted to mention them. ... People out there are working at home on their computers; [they] want the attention and deserve it."
While The Hollywood Reporter turned down interview requests for this story, the following statement was issued: "We are committed to upholding our editorial standards amidst the challenges of the fast-paced media world. We respect the efforts of film-focused blogs, and work hard to ensure that information published in The Hollywood Reporter that is derived from other sources is routinely and properly credited."
The sites involved in the boycott, however, claim that such statements are lip service, and the trades rarely update their stories with proper credit when contacted by the indie sites.
"We have tried countless amounts of time; they never respond," IESB.net owner/editor Robert Sanchez complained. "[For the film 'G.I. Joe'] we broke the news on Stephen Sommers directing, Stuart Beattie as the writer and the castings of Destro, Zartan, Cover Girl and Storm Shadow. The Hollywood Reporter ran a story on the Destro casting the very next day."
Since the boycott was announced, however, signs have emerged that the Hatfields and the McCoys might be willing to put down their guns. The Reporter credited AintItCoolNews.com in a recent item about Robert Rodriguez's new TV show, while a Variety blog recently pointed its readers to "Hulk" stories at Film School Rejects and Cinematical.com. And such trade reporters as Borys Kit and Anne Thompson have offered recent support for film sites.
"Whenever a Web site breaks any kind of news that gets picked up more widely, the mainstream media seem only to credit their counterparts," observed Sci-Fi Wire news editor Patrick Lee, insisting such links are only the tip of the iceberg. "Web sites are somehow considered less than legitimate, or easily poachable."
It's an ongoing battle that will define the future of how moviegoers receive news on upcoming releases, a hunger that seems to grow with each passing year. So we asked both sides: How will the relationship between the trades and the sites change in the years to come?
"Little will change. The big guy is always going to be the big guy; the little guy is always going to be the little guy," Morris said. "Though, I'll gladly take Bart's spot on 'Sunday Morning Shootout.' "
"I think we'll all grow together. I really do, and I think to some degree we want it," Bart offered. "I would like to have us develop a blog of blogs, where we get a highlight reel of the best blogs that deal with the entertainment media. I think that will happen before long, and I think that would ameliorate some of these concerns."
"I see an integration of the two mediums; not necessarily a partnership, but a last desperate attempt at survival for the trades," Film School Rejects associate editor Brian Gibson insisted. "I can see some of the sites being purchased, or their writers being hired by the trades. This could cause a positive influence on how the trades view online journalism. ... I just hope that by the time that they attempt to show us respect and courtesy, it isn't when they are on their way to the unemployment line."
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