This is probably going to be a state-of-the-blog post with a little opinion mixed in. It’s been a while since I’ve written one because, as tempting as they are, I kind of hate them. For better or for worse, I try to subscribe to a philosophy best described by a quote from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: “If you’re going to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk.” Process and intentions and statements of principle are for people who like to hear themselves talk. You don’t have to tell people what you’re doing, just do it.
Having said that, I think about what I’m doing constantly and LiC has slowly transformed over time – I hope for the better. I keep an eye on the successful blogs and movie sites and sometimes wonder what I could do differently to be more like them. The truth is, none of them are really successful in ways that appeal to me. I conceived of Living in Cinema from the start as a slow growing niche blog and right away I eliminated or reduced focus on three of the things that seem to be most popular: awards, gossip and blockbusters. I also don’t care for manufactured controversy.
From time to time I’ve flirted with daily production news which is another traffic driving item, but I don’t ever want to become a blog that simply recycles other people’s reporting. In fact, 90% of the newsy stuff I’ve passed along in the last few months has been via Twitter with a link back to the original source. I haven’t bothered to post at all. You may or may not have made use of the LiC Twitter feed to the right to click on something interesting, but I hope you have. I know this is impacting my “page views” but I find most “news” doesn’t demand more than 140 characters or less to get across. Am I limiting my own traffic? Probably, but luckily I don’t depend on page views for my livelihood.
This brings me to a recent post by Anne Thompson embracing the constant repetition of the same old stories featuring the same old popular names (Fincher, Cameron, Pitt, Nolan etc.) that was part defense of some mean-spirited and pointless (though sprinkled with some sense) criticisms David Poland had recently made of her, and part justification for running some not-especially-interesting nuggets that fell out of James Cameron’s mouth recently and were endlessly repeated as though they were carved on stone tablets and delivered by Moses. Her take seems to be that this stuff builds traffic and therefore it’s all good.
Naturally, I totally disagree. That’s the same attitude that has destroyed the TV news business. The instant in the 1990s when TV stations were let off the hook for keeping us informed as a service in exchange for the free use of the public airwaves, the whole thing has gone straight to hell. Local TV news especially is a mire of sports, weather, Lindsay Lohan, the tragedy of the day or a combination of the four. The broadcast networks are all soundbites and human interest stories while the cable channels rely on opinion, controversy and spin. Boring old information takes a back seat to sexy, audience grabbing headlines.
Interestingly, in a previous post praising the popular movie site The Playlist on the occasion of its joining indieWIRE (Thompson is indieWIRE’s newly installed Editor at Large), she zeroes in on what makes that particular site successful: “The Playlist doesn’t just regurgitate, comment and repeat. They dig, check and ask questions as the story develops and matures.” Exactly! Not only that, The Playlist is incredibly thorough in digging stuff up, they’re great at connecting dots between half-stories and turning them into full ones, and they almost always provide a bit of their own analysis. The point is, though they rely about 70% on daily news, The Playlist is the antithesis of all the other news recyclers and it’s all for the better. Thompson knows the difference, but I wonder if sometimes the panic to drive traffic clouds her (and everyone else’s) judgement.
I guess what I’m getting at here is that there’s a disease infecting online media that will do anything for a page hit and it’s not just the fanboy sites who mysteriously call an interview an “Exclusive” when everyone else in town has talked to the subject in question. The pros are just as guilty. Just last night Mike Fleming posted an “exclusive” at Deadline about how Matt Damon would not be returning for the next Jason Bourne film, but that the option remained open for his return at some future date. That’s fine, but writer/director Tony Gilroy had already stated on the record that The Bourne Legacy would be a story within the Bourne universe as it had already been filmed three times, but that Jason Bourne would not be a character. In other words: Damon isn’t in it, but there’s nothing stopping him from coming back since they’re not recasting the part or killing the character, which is all Fleming had to offer as an exclusive. I suppose it’s possible Fleming never saw the original item where the information was already covered (can’t blame him for not reading H-E), but the story was then repeated and retweeted hundreds of times as though there was really new information being passed along. I don’t necessarily want to criticize the other sites because they all outclass me trafficwise and they probably always will, but I know for sure I don’t ever want to be like them.
Ok, I admit it I’m kind of rambling here. I’ve got three or four semi-related thoughts swimming around in my head and I’m not sure if I have one grand point to make. I guess I often define Living in Cinema by what it isn’t and sometimes I’m left wondering what it is. Reviews I hope will always be the site’s backbone and whenever I can shine a little light on some of the smaller movies you might not be aware of, I’ll do it, but what else would you like to see? Since I’ve pushed headlines to Twitter, my posting rate has declined, but my traffic has remained constant and the number of unique visitors has actually increased dramatically. In other words, more people are reading fewer posts and it balances out. As a side benefit, I have more energy each day to focus on the things that really matter. That’s not to say I’m doing heavy lifting every post. I rely a lot on easy things like trailers plus the occasional press release as I receive them, but even then I try to emphasize the little movies. If I can provide a steady stream of content to fill the spaces between the more in depth items (like reviews, or even the Weekend Forecast which takes more time than anything else I do) without stooping to the worst kind of nonsense, I feel like I’m doing all right.
What do you think? Am I carving out a big enough niche to justify the effort? And no, I’m not really looking for kind words and encouragement. I assume to a point you like what I do or you wouldn’t be reading this, but I’d love to hear what you’d like to see that you aren’t getting or what you are getting that you don’t want. As always, feel free to comment or drop me an email.
Filed under: Opinion