All is not well at AOL. Staffers at two of its media properties, the Sillicon Valley news blog TechCrunch and the film site Moviefone, are publicly fueding with each other in a dispute about journalistic integrity. Last night, TechCrunch staff writer Paul Carr called for the firing of Moviefone's editor-in-chief Patricia Chui for being too concerned about movie studios. "Chui should resign in shame, and if she won’t resign then AOL should fire her immediately," wrote Carr.
Carr was upset that a representative from Moviefone told a TechCrunch writer to tone down her snark. Moviefone had been pressured by the film studio Summit Entertainment after TechCrunch published a less-than-flattering review of The Source Code, a new movie starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Chui defended the letter saying Moviefone had an obligation to "stay on good terms" with movie studios because it works with them "every day" in a separate blog post.
For Carr, Chui's defense was beyond the pale.
I mean, seriously. An editor-in-chief wrote these words: “we work with movie studios every day, and it is in our best interests to stay on good terms with them”.
Actually, Patricia, you only have two loyalties: one is to your readers and one is to the company that signs your paychecks. That’s it. You do not – emphatically do not – have a responsibility to “stay on good terms” with movie studios. On the contrary, when a movie company asks you to try to strong-arm a college into dialing down her editorial voice, it’s in your best interests as a professional editor to tell them to go fuck themselves. The fact that you didn’t do that is bad enough, the fact that you’re so bad at your job that you still believe you acted correctly is unforgivable.
But pointedly, Carr also attacked the original TechCrunch post as unfair to the AOL bosses Tim Armstrong and Arianna Huffington.
So, no, Alexia’s headline shouldn’t have read “AOL Asks Us If We Can Tone It Down”. That was unfair to AOL. What it should have said – and what would have been entirely fair to everyone involved – is “Moviefone’s Patricia Chui should resign in shame, and if she won’t resign then AOL should fire her immediately.”
Who knew managing a blog empire would be this difficult? In recent years, AOL has adopted a strategy of buying up popular blogs and promising them broad editorial independence. The guarantee reassures loyal readers their favorite website isn't going to change and makes the acquisition more palatable for the owners selling the site. However, it makes it nearly impossible to foster cooperation or even detente between sister sites (recall the recent flame war between TechCrunch co-editor Michael Arrington and Engadget editor Joshua Topolsky, another AOL property).
As the media behemoth continues to intergrate new web operations (we're looking at you, Huffington Post), can it keep all of its various egos in check? It's not off to a good start.