LITTLE ROCK Something has happened up in the northwest corner of the state that has caused my phone to ring a lot lately. Now I’ve talked to dozens of you about it, but there are probably dozens more I didn’t talk to, and so I’m going to take a moment to explain what has happened.
An advertiser decided to stop running a specific ad.
Now, as I understand it, that is wholly the former advertiser’s prerogative. A long time ago I had to worry a little bit about keeping advertisers happy while trying to put out a legitimate news product and it became so difficult I basically blew my life up and started over just to get out of that situation.
My constituents are the people who read MovieStyle, and although I am grateful that there are advertisers, it is by design that I spend no time thinking about them. Even though I am the nominal editor of this section of the news-paper, I don’t even see the ads in the newspaper until I pick it up off my front porch in the morning.
When we’re preparing the section, there aren’t any ads on the pages. Instead there are stretches of blank space - a white territory where monsters lie - instead of advertising copy. Later, in a place I never visit, the ads are stripped in.
So, because they don’t throw a copy of the Northwest Arkansas edition of the newspaper on my porch, I almost never see that finished version of MovieStyle. So, a couple of weeks ago, when my phone began to ring and people asked me why we stopped running “the movie times,” I was initially flummoxed.
Because we don’t run movie times.
Let me repeat that. We don’t run movie listings that specify movie, theater and time.
MovieStyle never has run anything like this. We haven’t since I’ve been here at this newspaper - which, coincidentally, is 20 years today.
There are lots of reasons we don’t do this, but the main reason is that we decided a long time ago that this was going to be a section about movies and what they mean. We mean MovieStyle to be a review-driven section composed chiefly of cultural criticism.
Now you might think that sounds fancy, but the truth is I’m interested in trying to parse the movies, which seem to me analogous to our communal dreams in that they can tell us things about ourselves we might not otherwise discover. I think the practice of criticism is worthwhile and I’m serious about it.
And while running movie listings might be a nice service to provide readers, we simply aren’t equipped to do it. We already have the Film Clips digest, which means to give a capsule summary of every movie that is playing in the market, as well as the Coming Attractions feature. And we attempt to review every movie that opens in Arkansas. We get most of them.
But I wouldn’t even know how to begin to give you an accurate accounting of when every movie will play in every theater in Arkansas. There are a lot of theaters. Some of them are very cooperative, some of them are hard to find. Under the circumstances, the chances of introducing errors in the newspaper are unacceptably high for me to want to attempt anything like that.
And even if we could do it - and I admit that it would be a nice thing to do for readers if we could - we simply don’t have the space to do it. Two of the MovieStyle section’s six pages are dedicated to comics, crosswords and other features. So is the top of the third page. And the second page is the weekly box-office report and television listings.
That leaves the front and last pages and about two thirds of another page for the stories that I think we ought to run about movies. Mostly we run reviews of films that are opening in a given week; Levi Agee writes a column about the local film industry and Karen Martin - who thought this section up and got it started all those years ago - contributes a column about recently released movies on DVD.
Most weeks we can’t fit everything we planned to run in the actual newspaper. Most weeks at least some of what we planned to run spills over into my blood, dirt & angels (blooddirtangels.com) website.
The current system is better. We tell you about the movies. The ads in our newspaper tell you where and when you can see them.
Or maybe there are no ads in the newspaper to tell you this. Then you can find out about the show times online, if you have a computer or a smart phone and the requisite technical savvy. Or you can call a given theater and listen to their recordings. Usually they’ll have it right. And if they don’t, well, at least we didn’t steer you wrong.
Naturally, if there are no ads in a newspaper then the newspaper cannot long continue to operate. But like I said, I have decided not to worry about those things. I have decided to worry about producing the best MovieStyle section we can produce, and assuming that quality will carry the day. I don’t know what to do other than the best I can.
So far, that has worked out OK.
MovieStyle, Pages 33 on 02/08/2013
Print Headline: Reviews a priority, not listings of films