Friday, February 04, 2005

The Ballad of David Manning- Buying and selling journalists for profit & fun

With the revelation of the spate of American political writers that have been bought up and paid off by the Bush administration, journalism takes yet another hit. Not that it was in high standing mind you: a Gallup poll last year gave journalists low marks for "honesty" and "integrity." Mind you, this was the feeling BEFORE these latest revelations came out.

It might be significant that the buying off of writers came in the political realm. Music writing is thought to be its own little domain, separate even from other arts more or less. That's true to some extent- go to any get-together thrown by New York music writers and most of the people there will be other music writers. Understandable, right? Still, to pretend that music and the realm around it exists in a bubble is totally short-sighted and unrealistic. Take a look at the other parts of the entertainment industry- films, TV, videos- and ask yourself if they have nothing to do with music. The fact is that today they inform many consumers about music, new and old, than any of the traditional outlets in music world (radio, print reviews, shows). All of which is to say that the music world is definitely effected by outside events (naturally) so that when one realm of journalism takes a hit, it's inevitable that it will be felt in other types of journalism, right?

My favorite recent story about entertainment journalism is David Manning. Manning was working for a Connecticut newspaper around 2000, giving gushing reviews to major studio films. There was only one problem. He didn't exist. Sony invented him so that they would have flattering reviews to use in ads. Once that was exposed, a number of movie-goers actually filed suit against Sony for fraud. If that wasn't bad enough, it was also soon revealed that movie-goers who gave gushing testimonials in movie ads were actors who had been bought and paid for. The only thing left would be for these actors to buy all the tickets for the films and drive up box office receipts.

As funny and pathetic as this was, I wondered if such a thing might happen in the world of music journalism. So far, I've never even heard rumors of such a thing- if you have heard of it, let me know though.

No, what actually happens occasionally in the world of music journos is more insidious. Sometimes, writers get lazy & sloppy. I've been told by publicists that they find out that the copy that they wrote for a press release is sometimes quoted unattributed word-for-word in reviews. Naturally, they're glad to get the good press but they also wonder why they shouldn't get paid for writing part of the review. I'll get a press release and sometimes see the same thing happening in reviews and just wonder why these writers are getting paid for this. I have no problem with picking out nice little tidbits from these things but copying out chunks of it isn't just lazy but also scummy. No, it's not the same thing as a govt adminstration paying writers' to toe their line but is this any nobler or honorable?

Will there be a time when labels pay off writers for reviews reguarly? It's one thing to load a writer up with promo releases and I'm sure some scribes realize that eventually, they'll be taken off mailing lists if they don't write about what's sent to them but it hasn't gotten to the point where it's so blatant yet (again, if I'm whistling in the dark here, please speak up!). If all goes well with pay-offs to the politicos, all bets are off for the rest of the journo trade. Hopefully this will be a warning and wake-up call.


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