In the last 24 hours two internet-generated news stories have proven what’s wrong with the way we all do business. First it was Frosty’s story on Collider.com about the color of the Hulk in the soon to be filming sequel – he said that Avi Arad let it leak that the Hulk would be grey. Not so, said Arad when he went to the London press junket. “It was a joke!” Avi told Empire Online. “Here’s what it was. There were 30 people around a table, and they said ‘is there going to be a grey Hulk?’ And I was thinking about it and I said, ‘who knows?’ It was one of those moments. I had just got back from Japan and I was trying to talk about Spider-Man and this guy was pushing me on The Hulk so I thought I’ll be coy. I don’t know what colour it is, and all of a sudden it’s headline news.”
Ouch. But that’s not as bad as the picture of a make-up test of the Joker that Aint It Cool News still has up on its home page – a picture that’s looking more and more like it’s a complete hoax. Click here to see the thread on Superhero Hype where some internet scallywag explains how he created the fake image; if this guy is telling the truth (andit looks reasonable to me) it’s a major black eye for everybody involved. Again.
And that ‘everybody involved’ includes me, since I wrote up stories based on both those reports. I have to admit that the Hulk story seemed legit enough to me, but I really went back and forth on whether or not to write the Joker story up. I ended up going with it for one simple, bad reason – I didn’t want to get left in the dust.
I’ve written about this before, but it’s the scoop mentality that hurts every one of the internet movie sites. Some of that mentality is impossible to escape – if we take 12 hours to write up a story here on CHUD, it’s already OFN (Old Fuckin’ News) and nobody cares. When nobody cares, nobody visits the site. When nobody visits the site, there’s no revenue. When there’s no revenue I skip past eating the cat food to just eating the cats.
Every site that isn’t the first to report races to get a news story up quickly, and the original reporting site rarely does anything so simple as fact check. There are two reasons for that – one is that I know that if you send me a scoop and I don’t run it, you’ll have it somewhere else in an hour or two. There’s no patience on the internet, and people who want to see their ‘spy name’ in lights won’t wait for a webmaster to confirm a photo or a leak. There’s also a problem on the studio level, in that an attempt to confirm or deny a scoop can be met with a wall of silence, or in some cases, flat out lies. Or worst of all, you get a blanket ‘Don’t you fucking dare put that up,’ which just means that you’ve lost the scoop and it’s going to go to someone who isn’t going to be ethical enough to check on it – or who will disregard the studio’s threats.
The way the web game works is that it’s worse to have OFN than to have totally false news – I know at least one web site that regularly posts ‘scoops’ from ‘anonymous sources’ that are totally made up or are created from common sense knowledge and a little bit of uninformed guess works. They get the quick hits from the ‘scoop’ and none of the backlash because the readers are forgiving of the bullshit. Aint It Cool will delete the story about the Joker picture and act like it never happened and the next time they get a leak or a scoop everyone will be in a rush to click over, not concerned about the last false story, ready to believe whatever is published now.
And that willingness by the readers to keep coming back to reporters who burned them with false stories is why this will never get better. The New York Times really cares about their credibility, so a Jayson Blair case makes a difference. What website really gives that big a shit about their credibility when it comes to movie news? I mean, it’s just movie news, first of all, so this isn’t like Judith Miller’s baseless WMD stories (hi again, New York Times!). But even if you’re just reporting movie news, shouldn’t accuracy be something you’re aiming for? Shouldn’t there be an ethical reflex against publishing just anything that comes in your inbox?
I like Frosty and Quint. I have met both and both are good people. I like both their sites. I’m not throwing stones from within my glass house, but I can’t help commenting when two stories that get this much play fall apart within a couple of hours of each other. It’s not the late 90s anymore, and all of the Star Wars prequels have happened. The internet film sites – the ones that matter, anyway – need to do more to grow up, to behave not in the stodgy way that the Old Media does, but to try to be more trustworthy and reliable. To me there are two kinds of movie web sites: there are the quality ones that you go to every single day because, regardless of the nature of the news or what releases are on the horizon, they will have quality content, smart opinions and interesting writing. And then there are the ones that live and die on scoops, the ones that people only visit when they see them linked at a different, better site. I’m actually convinced that some of the people running these sites don’t even like movies that much – this just happens to be where their need to be noticed and to get early info has dropped them. When it’s all said and done, each site is going to have to decide what side they’re on.