Statement on Ethics

Past the Popcorn generally adheres to the standards set out in the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics. Our writers, however, function as critics and commentators—not, properly speaking, as journalists.

The Society states that “public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy.” From that standpoint, “the duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues.”

As the Los Angeles TimesCode of Ethics notes, however, the job of the critic is “to express opinions on the merits of creative works.” This is by nature a subjective task which is neither comprehensive nor fair, to be perfectly honest. Film reviews, particularly those published on the day of a film’s release, are one person’s first—if considered and somewhat informed—impressions of a work of art that, if fully analyzed, might require two or three viewings plus an assessment of other critical opinions. For this reason, major media outlets (like the Times) typically distinguish between journalists and critics, and have certain relaxed standards for the latter.

So while the SPJ states that journalists should “refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity” (italics ours), the Times notes that “critics may accept free admission to events they attend in order to write reviews.” Many major newspapers, however (particularly those not in major media markets like New York and Los Angeles), specifically forbid film critics to accept all-expenses-paid invitations to film junkets—promotional events to which critics are flown for a screening, and at which they are housed, fed, pampered, and granted exclusive or group access to stars, directors, producers, and others associated with a film’s production.

In the interest of full disclosure, PTP feels compelled to note that all advance coverage of films is dependent on privileged access to screenings, promotional materials, and interviews. Only in rare cases could the job of the critic be described as being conducted in a manner “accessible to the public.” So when the Times stipulates that staff “may not accept free or discounted transportation or accommodations unless the same discount is available to the public,” it’s not surprising to find an addendum: “Exceptions may arise when access to a news event or source can be gained no other way.” This is often the case with junkets. Access to filmmakers may, at times, only be possible through junketeering.

Make no mistake—privileged access to the filmmaking business is a seductive and potentially corrupting influence. But at PTP, we believe it is possible to maintain objectivity and integrity in the face of such influence; and not only is it possible, it is necessary, given the critic’s dependence on such privileged access. All of PTP’s Senior Writers are experienced with press tours, promotional screenings, and junkets—and all know that poor movies are poor movies, regardless of how or where those movies were screened.

Given these realities, PTP’s policy is to:

  • Make no special deals for access. When PTP staff screens a film, a review will be published. When PTP staff interviews talent, an interview or commentary will be published. Links to published reviews and articles will be forwarded to publicists as “back-up”—evidence for the studios that publicists are doing their jobs.
  • Observe a general “embargo” on reviews, holding them until the day of release (as specified by the studio), whether studios stipulate an embargo or not. If a publicist specifically requests an advance review, the request may or may not be granted depending on openings in PTP’s publication schedule.
  • Accept no pay (or other compensation) from publicists, studios, or persons associated with same, in exchange for coverage of a film.
  • Grant no favored status to a studio, publicist, or particular film. PTP will not barter to gain influence or readership.
  • Attend press screenings as available and as staff schedules allow.
  • Attend publicity screenings only if press screenings are unavailable, or if staff schedules do not allow attendance at press screenings.
  • Participate in local press tours at our own expense, and whenever possible.
  • Accept free or reimbursed travel expenses for out-of-town press events, such as junkets, only if screenings and/or talent access are unavailable in the Seattle market.
  • Accept screeners only if press or public screenings are unavailable.
  • Accept press credentials for film festivals, as available.
  • Acknowledge in reviews and articles the context in which privileged access was obtained.
  • Refuse to provide publicists “blurbs” or quotes that won’t appear in published reviews.
  • Refuse promotional items of any substantial material value.
  • Refuse advertising from studios, production companies, distributors, and any retailer offering products related to films or film-related merchandise. (Text links to external sites may be provided as professional courtesies, as when a guest author contributes a review.) In general, we will accept no advertising for any product or event that we would not otherwise consider promoting. Ads will never appear on the site’s home page.
  • Explicitly acknowledge the use of studio promotional materials—particularly quotes and other materials excerpted from production notes—when their use seems appropriate.
  • Refuse opportunities to “partner” in promotion of “event movies.” Each film will be given equal treatment, to the extent that access to screenings and filmmakers is available.
  • Distinguish between legitimate “news” functions and reviews or commentary. News functions will be conducted according to standard journalistic practice.
  • Otherwise adhere to the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics.