Slow news periods seem to bring out these hysterias in rumor mongering, and Spider-Man 4 is the latest film to be caught in such a vortex. The movie is shooting early next year and casting is almost certainly underway, and what this means is that lots of half-truths are making it online without a filter and without context.

A new Spider-Man 4 rumor at UGO today has Julia Stiles ‘taking a meeting’ for the role of the Black Cat. I think the news value of this has already happened – the  breaking story that Sam Raimi was casting a Black Cat was the news, while the names that have been attached have been gentle drops of bullshit. Which isn’t to say that the names aren’t real – while Rachel McAdams denied she was up for the role, it’s quite likely that Raimi’s office had her on their list, or that someone from production was actually in early talks with her people.

But here’s the rub (and it’s a rub I’ve discussed before): none of this actually means anything! Lots of people take lots of meetings, and lots of actresses will likely meet with Raimi about this role, which is a major one. I believe it’s the responsibility of sites to first filter this stuff out and then contextualize it for readers (like the Spider-Baby story – isn’t it crazy to jump to the conclusion that the toddler being cast will be Peter and MJ’s kid? Context is key when reporting that news).

The problem is that a decade and change on from the founding of Ain’t It Cool News we’re seeing a generation who grew up on internet leaks getting jobs in Hollywood. The site has a source – the Hollywood Cog – who is obviously a young guy who is either interning or is an assistant at one of the agencies. The Hollywood Cog is privy to lots of stuff, and he reports every bit of it. I bet that most of what he reports is ‘true’ in the broader sense – an agent did say that so-and-so was up for a part – but he’s reporting decontextualized office gossip.

The bigger problem that the Hollywood Cog or UGO’s leaker or Mania’s original source on the Black Cat story has and that they may not even realize is that they’re reporting on a lot of spitballing. My guess is that most of these sources are low-level folks at agencies (almost 100% certainly the Hollywood Cog) or management companies. They’re sitting in on phone calls between their bosses and other agents, studio execs, filmmakers, etc. And they’re hearing people throwing around ideas and making pitches. And they’re hearing people lie. They’re hearing an exec say how much he loves Client A for the role when he hates Client A on a deep personal level but needs to keep a relationship open with the agent. They’re hearing general gossip – “So I heard that So-and-So was up for Green Lantern” – and speculation.

This is the case with Pajiba’s recent ‘scoop’ that Jason was going to be killed off at the end of the next Friday the 13th, a scoop that surprised the filmmakers (but didn’t surprise the fans since Jason gets killed in EVERY MOVIE). I’m sure that the Hollywood Cog heard this around the office, but what many people reading this might not know about Hollywood is that most of the suits don’t know a fucking thing about movies. I’m not even exaggerating. There are people in this business who haven’t seen many movies, and who definitely haven’t seen many made before the mid 90s. And I’m being kind with that. It’s beyond plausible that whoever gave the Hollywood Cog this info had never seen a Friday the 13th.

Again, I think it’s the responsibility of news sites to not just report everything they hear. Of course this will never happen – there are too many hits to be gotten from reporting on ‘taking a meeting’ stories that other sites repurpose without giving the proper disclaimers. It all just becomes a huge burst of noise, giving no information, meaning or truth. Sites need to decide what’s more important: servicing their readers with the best, most accurate content or getting lots of hits.

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