Ethical Values That Define Film Criticism and Film Journalism

By Will Ashton

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It is my desire that, after college, I enter the world of film criticism and film journalism. I remember as a child looking up to figures like the late Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper on At the Movies and being enamored with what the do and the beauty of talking about film so intelligently and openly. It opened my mind to what art could be and how film was such a transgressive and engaging medium. My dream job would be to run a film blog like this full-time, and to get the opportunity to review films, interview filmmakers and write about film news on a daily basis. As such, there are four ethical values in particular that I find especially important.

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1. Be Open-Minded, But Don’t Be Afraid to Stand Up to Your Critical Opinions

In many ways, film critics, like all other types of critics, differ from regular journalists because they get the golden opportunity to voice their opinions. With this power, however, comes a great deal of responsibility, and one of those responsibilities is to be fair and open-minded to your fellow critics. Critics should be allowed to disagree and articulately state why they feel what they feel, but they should also be fair and let other people speak their opinions. As Roger Ebert noted, “(R)atings are relative, not absolute… People should be smart enough to listen to what we say instead of looking at the dumb thumbs or the dumb stars, because there are gradations and context that go on.” Although opinions vary, if someone can back their opinion at the end of the day, they have something noteworthy to say. Just as objectivity is “seeing the world as it is, not how you wish it were,” according to Michael Bugeja, a journalism professor in Iowa, in the article “Rethinking Objectivity” for the Columbia Journalism Review, the art of criticism is allowing yourself to open your mind to other people’s opinions, not just your own. A big part of being a film critic is not only knowing when to speak, but also when to listen.

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2. Don’t Compromise Integrity Simply For Attention

One of the biggest problems in film criticism and journalism, especially as it becomes more blog-centered, is the uprising of killing integrity for the sake of clicks and views. Often, film journalists will pull out a dirty “bait-and-switch” headline and article, or critics will dislike a popular movie or speak negatively of an acclaimed film, just so they can drive more traffic to their site. While this may be temporarily effective, it loses the trust of your audience, and causes readers to turn away from your work. It is important for film journalists and film critics to not berate their audience just so they can get easy traffic, because if this continues, this business will go into a rapid decline. As such, another issue that can be derived from this is  plagiarism, which has become more apparent in the 24-hour blogging and news cycles that are found in film journalism today. As Deni Elliott, a professor of media ethics at the University of South Florida, is quoted in the article “Confronting the Culture” for American Journalism Review, “The more pressure that is put on journalists to produce more, faster, quicker, cheaper, the more the industry encourages cutting corners, which is just another way of saying cheating,” Ultimately, cheap and lazy reporting needs to be stopped if this business is to continue thriving.

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3. Value Honesty Over Flattery

Often, in entertainment journalism, critics are tempted by publicists who give gifts and exciting trips hoping to persuade journalists into giving their bosses’ work a strong review.  While it is easy to be persuaded by such lavish and exciting offers, it is important for film critics and film journalists to remember that, at the end of the day, they have to continue being honest and true to their profession. Sometimes, it can be easy for film critics to give a bad film a good review based on the exquisite gifts they have been given on the side. It is more important, however, for critics to be honest to the public then lie for the sake of marketers. In his article discussing a similar problem found in the wine journalism field titled “Bottled Press: The Ethical Paradox of the Wine Press” for Media Ethics Magazine, author Robert D. Richards notes that wine journalists “should accept, as part of that package, only those accommodations, goods and services absolutely necessary to the reporting of the story,” and the same can be said for film critics and film journalists. Ultimately, readers’ trust is more vital than great trips and gifts.

4. Respect Your Fans As Much As They Respect You

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In order to build trust and followers, it is important for film critics and film journalists to give readers as much respect as they give you. After all, if you expect them to be considerate of you, you should also be considerate of them. Some readers and comments may cross the line, especially with the freedom that is given on the Internet these days. Even then, though, it is important to handle the situation fairly and respectively. It’s more paramount to appear mature when others are not, because it gives your readers more trust in you and your work. Also, developing a strong relationship with readers on social networks sites like Facebook and Twitter is a great way to build this connection to your fans. As noted in Radio Television Digital News Association’s guidelines for social media and blogging, “Bloggers and journalists who use social media often engage readers in a lively give-and-take of ideas. Never insult or disparage readers. Try to create a respectful, informed dialogue while avoiding personal attacks.” Through connecting and building a great relationship with readers, writers are able to expand and build their professional profile.

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