22 April 2011

The journalist who punked himself

Jim Schembri was a film reviewer with a Melbourne paper who gave away the ending to a film in one of his reviews. Now he says he did it deliberately. I hope your copy of Chomsky keeps you warm at night Jim, because you're like a bird that has fouled its own nest.

The idea of being a film reviewer for a mainstream media outlet is that you know more about movies than most people, that your opinion is worth listening to, and all the better if you can convey this in an entertaining way. Jim Schembri did that, and many people in Melbourne took his advice on what films to (not) see.

Now he's just another online voice: your guess is as good as his as to what's worth seeing, and thanks to The Age for paying him to see those movies that others have to shell out for.
The response was vehement. Everybody wanted answers. "Why'd you do it? Are you nuts?" They demanded replies. "You changed the copy! Admit your mistake!" I remained silent. That fuelled the online anger - including the niche news-gossip site Crikey, which highlighted my apparent error.

The stream of responses perfectly illustrated what media analyst Noam Chomsky calls the constraint of concision - that limited time and space vitiates reason or debate and, instead, promotes amplification of and conformity to an orthodox line of thinking. This was starkly demonstrated by the huge degree of retweeting about what a louse I was.

Schembri could've busted the constraint of concision around this event, but he chose not to - and that those bound by that constraint have somehow fallen into a trap of his devising. Now he expects to be believed when he clambers onto his employer's platform and claims that while he deliberately misled some people for whom he cares little (Twitter users), normal service is resumed for those upon whom his livelihood depends (readers of The Age).

Wait till Jim Schembri discovers that those who use Twitter are also those who read The Age. Oh Em Eff Gee.
Tellingly, the intellectual scope of the Twitter chatter - which became so intense it began "trending" in Melbourne for a short time - narrowed to such a degree the powerful impression was that the only person on earth who had run a spoiler online was me.

No Jim, but you were the only mainstream media "professional" who did this. Now your opinion is worth no more than anyone else's. People gave you the benefit of the doubt enough to ask you why and what, in order to avoid the punking you had apparently planned for them, and by refusing to answer you have devalued your own opinion and made those open to you look foolish. You have diminished a base you've taken so long to build. If you give a glowing review to a movie, are readers to assume it's crap and that you're punking them again?
Yet once Scream 4 opened in the US, a veritable cascade of spoilers poured onto Twitter. It was amazing. Thousands of tweets and retweets revealed the identity of the killer.

It's only "amazing" if you have no real experience of social media and don't understand it. Find one of those spoilers by someone employed by mainstream media - which also takes money for ads for that film. The key differentiator of the mainstream media from social media is that paid writers are supposed to have experience and responsibility that random tweeters don't. All you've punked is your own reputation and that of The Age.

I'm not going to see Scream 4 either, so why don't you just ignore crap movies?
Spoiler-anxious directors need to think laterally and embrace the media they are in such fear of.

Same with mainstream media employees engaging in Twitter wars while waiting to be made redundant (so that the stock market will get all thrilled about Fairfax management shedding redundant payroll-fat like a film reviewer whose contributions detract from his employer's authority). It's interesting that in his last two paragraphs, Schembri thinks he's clever offering suggestions that have long since been superseded.

For everyone who's determined never to read Schembri ever again, there are many well, plenty uh, just as many of course, some, surely nobody at all willing to join the ranks of Schembri-readers in order to justify his presence in that snazzy new '90s building The Age has built for itself. Here is a mainstream media employee who has committed professional suicide, and the only people who noticed are those who used to be his readers. It's one thing to lose Alan Kohler or the real estate ad guy who set up their own publications; The Age is starting to look like a once mighty and venerable institution that is actively alienating readers, willing itself to fail.

Next time journalists complain about the "24 hour news cycle" for the decline of their "profession" and its employers, point them to Schembri blowing off his own readers (and his employer's future base). Here lies Jim Schembri, he was unable to recognise his market because they occasionally used a different platform, and because he did the whole journalist thing of never admitting an error: never complain, never explain, and leave a youthful-looking corpse (or something like that, look up the MEAA code yourself).

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