My Two Cents

The industry enjoys disparaging Film-TV trade magazines. We in the TV mag biz tend to be critical of our own work as well, but for different reasons than those of TV executives.

For the most part, trades are a mirror of the industry: we reflect what’s before us. What comes out in print is nothing new, therefore the word “distortion” cannot be applied to our stories. We’re not known for investigative reporting. After all, we write for people who tend to know more about show business than we do, and we rely on our readers to provide us with information. When we write something perceived as “hard-hitting” we aren’t attempting to emulate The New York Times, nor are we trying to be “real journalists,” ; we are just relaying what's out there. We bring it out in the open for the purpose of benefiting the industry.

Some of the trades have been criticized for selling influence, a conflict-of-interest type of scam. I wonder, though, how they could be leveraging a power that they just don't have (the industry seems to agree on that).

In my view, the general press is the one affected by favors, not the so-called rags. As indicated by Richard A. Posner in his new book “Public Intellectuals” (Harvard University Press), intellectuals (in this case mainly top-level journalists) will respond just like companies do to the laws of supply and demand. Meaning, if left-leaning intellectuals accrued greater benefits than right-leaning intellectuals, “there would then be a tendency for public intellectuals to reposition themselves politically until an equilibrium was restored.”

Being at the low end of the journalism totem pole, trade media faces another problem: a shortage of talented, hard-driven writers. Many reporters are unable to write a story if a company’s PR people don’t release any information. In other words, someone has to provide a press release or trade writers seem to be lost! Then, there is the Internet. Instead of picking up the phone and making a few calls, some journalists like to surf the Net, searching for tidbits of information. I find this practice time-consuming and oftentimes plagiaristic.

Another problem is the quality of service to the industry, not to be confused with servitude. “Only your magazine can write an honest account on that” explained a TV executive when called to comment on a topic we at VideoAge had in mind for a story. We are proud of this “moniker,”; the problem is that we practically stand alone.

Finally, the most aggravating aspect of modern trade journalism: lack of historic perspective, comparison and point of reference. Nowadays many trade magazines tend to report various quotes without providing facts, context, precedents and/or insight.

Years ago, the editor-in-chief at my former publication Television/Radio Age, Alfred J. Jaffe, used to demand that each fact be checked, each unattributed statement be accurate (he demanded proof), superlatives and superfluous comments be eliminated and, above all, articles were to be chock-full of references. All of this always had to be done “yesterday” (we came out twice a month). Plus, he was a stickler about certain things: the word “famous” was never to be used to describe someone (if he were really famous, there was no need to say it), and the expression “I think” was taboo. The publication’s only problem was that the stories were too long to constitute a quick read, so most issues piled up on top of executives’ desks collecting dust.

Today the trade press is more agile, svelte and concise, but less incisive and illuminating. That’s unfortunate, but deep down we are not too bad after all, and we provide a service more needed than ever before!

Dom Serafini