April 19, 2014

“Boycott AOL and Huffington Post” – Behind the Untimely Death of Cinematical


By Sean O’Connell
Hollywoodnews.com: Staying on top of the ever-changing Cinematical story this week has been a full-time job. The sad irony of that assessment is that just about everyone associated with the story will be out of a job by the time this article publishes.

Patricia Chui, former editor-in-chief at Moviefone, became the latest casualty in what is becoming a bloodbath at AOL’s movie brands, Moviefone and Cinematical. Chui reportedly was fired Wednesday for a miscommunication sent to current Cinematical freelancers informing them that while they were being let go, they were welcome to contribute to the site as unpaid bloggers.

“Sometime soon – this week, I believe – many of you will be receiving an email informing you that your services as a freelancer will no longer be required,” Chui’s e-mail stated. “You will be invited to contribute as part of our non-paid blogger system; and though I know that for many of you this will not be an option financially, I strongly encourage you to consider it if you’d like to keep writing for us, because we value all of your voices and input.”

AOL and Huffington Post executives quickly tried to respond that Chui’s e-mail “misrepresented” its plans, but the cat was out of the bag. We sent a request to Arianna Huffington for a comment on this story, but did not receive a response in time for press.

Meanwhile, most of the damage inflicted over the past few weeks was felt at Cinematical, where dedicated staffers like Scott E. Weinberg and Erik Davis, longtime film scribes who have been around since the site’s earliest days, started abandoning ship at an alarming rate.

“Part of me stepping down had to do with not agreeing with their editorial strategy moving forward, and part had to do with me wanting to move on to new challenges,” Davis told me via e-mail. “The mass exodus is unfortunate, for sure, and it’s expected as AOL moves toward more full-time employees and begins to let go of freelancers. For the record they offered me a full-time job there, and asked me to try to stay on in some capacity, but I didn’t feel right taking a position where it was possible that several writers on my staff could lose their jobs almost immediately. I don’t agree with that strategy, and I’m not interested in pursuing that avenue further.”

Weinberg took it one step further, stating in an April 5 Tweet, “The stellar team built by @KarinaLongworth @jamesrocchi @kimvoynar @ErikDavis and I has been killed with one email. Thanks, AOL / Arianna.”

Cinematical staffers, as you might expect, responded angrily to the e-mailed pink slips.

“Got the official F-off e-mail from AOL/Moviefone at 2:13 AM. To them I say good riddance. Hoping they never see a shred of free content,” Erik Childress posted on his Facebook page.

“Inexplicably annoyed I got the AOL go-to-hell email this morning,” Eugene Novikov Tweeted. “You can’t fire me! I quit a month ago!”

He wasn’t alone. The Cinematical “mass exodus” started during the South By Southwest film festival, when Weinberg abruptly quit following a dust-up over perceived censorship and editorial strong-arming from AOL editors regarding a piece filed on TechCrunch.

“I knew I was leaving at the end of the month,” Weinberg told me in an exclusive phone interview. “The TechCrunch story just lit a fire underneath me. Pete [Hall] said he was going to leave at the end of the month. Erik [Davis] said, ‘Yeah, I’m just not really feeling this anymore.’

“To some people, it might look like we just gave up,” Weinberg continued. “The truth is, we were struggling with it for a long time, too. It’s not like we just gave up. We just knew there was no real fight left to fight. That’s all.”

To read part two, detailing what went wrong at Cinematical, click here.

To read part three, calling for an AOL and HuffPo boycott, click here.

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About Sean O'Connell

Sean O'Connell is a nationally recognized film critic. His reviews have been published in print ('The Washington Post,' 'USA Today') and online (AMC FilmCritic.com, MSN's Citysearch) since 1996. He's a weekly contributor to several national radio programs. He is a longstanding member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Southeastern Film Critics View all articles by Sean O'Connell Association (SEFCA).

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One Comment

  • April 7, 2011 | Permalink |

    It’s good to know that these writers are sticking to their guns. They were the reason why Cinematical became what it was.

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