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AOL Tells Affiliated Blogger to 'Tone Down Snark' in Movie Review

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Even bloggers can get caught up in shady corporate bullshit. Here's a little yarn for you:

Alexia Tsotsis, former LA Weekly writer, recently started blogging at TechCrunch, a blog about technology start-ups that's owned by AOL. This past week, Tsotsis was at SXSW when someone from Moviefone - also owned by AOL - gave her the chance to interview Jake Gyllenhaal, who stars in Summit's new movie "The Source Code."

Tsotsis did the interview, and then wrote a piece for her TechCrunch readers about the use of social media to market the film. In it, she took some (deserved) swipes at that marketing, which uses a Facebook game to engage would-be audiences, calling the game a "thinly veiled promotion" and "not particularly engaging." She also took very, very light aim at the completely implausible plot of the movie:

Directed by Duncan Jones, The Source Code is a movie about a soldier who finds himself as part of a strange military project. The source code is literally a computer program which allows him to take over another man’s identity during the last few minutes of his life, in order to um, not blow up a train.
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By light aim, I mean Tsotsis' use of blog language to communicate her skepticism: specifically, her strategically placed "um."*

Well. Summit decided that the review wasn't positive enough, and that's when Tsotsis got an email from her contact at Moviefone, asking her if it might possible for her to go back into her already published post and edit out her "snark":

First wanted to thank you for covering Source Code/attending the party, etc. But also wanted to raise a concern that Summit had about the piece that ran. They felt it was a little snarky and wondered if any of the snark can be toned down? I wasn’t able to view the video interviews but I think their issue is just with some of the text. Let me know if you’re able to take another look at it and make any edits.

Of course, Tsotsis' "um" was very benign snark, at worst; one can only assume that no one at Moviefone or at Summit has ever read Gawker, if they're offended by what Tsotsis wrote. What it expressed, rather than snarkiness, was more like casual disdain -- a sentiment that Summit obviously didn't like.

This story is all the more grating because AOL had assured TechCrunch at the time of the acquisition that they wouldn't attempt to exert control over content. According to TechCrunch writer Michael Arrington:

AOL was very aggressive about one last important issue that really sealed the deal - editorial. Tim told me that he doesn't want whatever makes TechCrunch special to go away. He also said it was important that we feel free to criticize AOL when we think they deserve it. And the agreement we signed with AOL fully reflects this. In particular, we used the Twitter document scandal as a test. If the same thing happens with AOL in the future, we should feel comfortable posting those documents. And in that unlikely event, we will.

So, there you have it. In case you're wondering, Tsotsis was unequivocal about what she's going to do. After attributing the move on Moviefone's part to a Hollywood PR culture that regularly expects positive coverage in exchange for access, she writes:
So no AOL, and Moviefone, and Summit, I will absolutely not tone down my snark. This is Silicon Valley, not Hollywood.

...but that doesn't change the fact that this was a shady power play on the part of Summit, and AOL.

*Is "um" elegant, in the grand scheme of literature? No. And if we bloggers had several weeks and 5,000 words to more eloquently explore our thoughts and feelings, no doubt we would (and I suspect that in the case of Tsotsis' review of "The Source Code," those thoughts and feelings would be even less positive than her evocative "um.")

But we don't. The nature of the blog is short and sweet, (why, some of you may have already stopped reading this post), and "um" gets the point across.