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iW | bias? conflict of interest?

iW | bias? conflict of interest?

As a journalist for well over a decade now, I take charges of bias and conflict of interest very seriously. Tonight I read an article charging that Variety‘s coverage of the WGA strike is slanted in favor of the studios, while earlier in the day I spent a lot of time thinking about whether indieWIRE‘s film criticism is inherently biased…

Not long after indieWIRE published Wednesday’s review of “Southland Tales,” I was contacted by two people from the distribution company for the film, Samuel Goldwyn Films, upset that the negative review had been written by Jeff Reichert. He is the co-founder and editor of the four year old online film journal Reverse Shot (which contributes reviews to iW) and he is also a recently promoted SVP at film distribution company Magnolia Pictures. The executives from Goldwyn explained that they didn’t realize that an SVP from a rival company wrote reviews for indieWIRE.

While I declined to remove the article from the iW site, I had a valuable hour-long coversation with the Goldwyn execs and they later submitted a Letter to the Editor which we published (and we also revised Jeff’s personal bio to reflect his new title at Magnolia). During the call, I expressed my confidence in Jeff’s credibility as a critic, earned over his years writing for Reverse Shot. In my mind, he and his RS colleagues have created an exceptional film journal, but I realize it has been a side gig to his work in PR & marketing at a film distribution company. While I don’t always agree with RS reviews, I respect their work so much that a few years ago we reached out to them to contribute criticism to indieWIRE. And I remain completely supportive of Jeff, Michael and the entire Reverse Shot team, many of whom also work in the film business.

I also think its important to acknowledge that in the year since iW began running full-length RS reviews, Jeff has written a handful himself, including critique’s of “Volver,” “Zoo,” “Time,” “The Camden 28,” and “Darfur Now“.

During the Goldwyn call, I reiterated a personal committment to transparency regarding how and why we make editorial decisions and that’s the reason I decided to write in depth about this situation on my personal blog. While talking with the Goldwyn folks, I was challenged to try and look at the situation from the perspective of a rival distribution company. We certainly didn’t see eye to eye on all points, but I finished the call with an even deeper understanding of the issues involved and I’ve spent considerable time tonight thinking about conflicts of interest and bias, because we deeply value the credibility we’ve earned over these 11 years at iW.

So, wrapping up, I’d appreciate hearing from indieWIRE readers on the matter. And I’ll end noting that some time ago I was told that the term “conflict of interest” is essentially about perception. And, as a respected, longtime film industry veteran advised me tonight, “It’s also about character and conscience. But this business is ALL about perception.”

I look forward to reading reader feedback.

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