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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

An Open Letter to the Seattle Weekly

posted by on February 28 at 15:30 PM

Michael Seiwerath is angry.

To: The Seattle Weekly
From: Michael Seiwerath, Executive Director, Northwest Film Forum

The Seattle Weekly review of Our Daily Bread, credited to Village Voice film critic J Hoberman, is a distressing insight into the state of film criticism at our city’s oldest continuously running alternative weekly. From a longer November 14th, 2006 Village Voice review encompassing the documentary Our Daily Bread and Richard Linklater’s Fast Food Nation, the Weekly printed a botched cut-and-paste truncation.

What ran in the February 21 edition of the Weekly is a recombinant jumble, devoid of time or place. Hacked from the end of the original review, the Weekly piece contains unexplained, unintelligible references to Nation. The reader is left confused, with a mess of an article that is only made clear by some internet research into what happened four months ago and 3000 miles away. More than simply an editorial production error, this virtual review is the systemic result of a flawed new business model.

The planned efficiencies of media consolidation by the New Times are failing. Without a film editor and consistent criticism written by local writers, the reviews often contain factual errors and obvious references to openings in other cities. This is a system that is no longer serving either the reader or the advertising base. Borrowing from J Hoberman’s description of a fast food hamburger, the individual review has become “the ground residue of many, many messily butchered animals.”

Click here to read the comments on Greencine Daily.

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oh my.

Posted by kim | February 28, 2007 3:49 PM

oh my.

Posted by kim | February 28, 2007 3:50 PM


Posted by Jake of | February 28, 2007 3:51 PM




Posted by Jean Paul | February 28, 2007 4:06 PM

So is New Times the print equivalent of Clear Channel? Is that their model? Centrally-distributed generic "content" with a few local bits plugged in here and there to make it seem like a local experience?

Posted by Fnarf | February 28, 2007 4:08 PM

I don't see how we could expect the New Times to deliver anything else besides canned reports. New Times is bigger than Clear Channel as far as the damage it's doing to choice. I believe that the New Times owns 45% of the "alternative" print media in the United States now. Please correct me if I'm wrong. It's not funny to me.

Posted by media watcher | February 28, 2007 4:17 PM

So who do you think will respond to your letter? The Uptight Seattlite or the Mexican?

Posted by elswinger | February 28, 2007 4:26 PM

Way to go, Michael! Badass. That is truly embarrassing for the Weakly.

Posted by Levislade | February 28, 2007 4:27 PM

There was a piece in today's NYT OP/ED about radio consolidation and how the chains are cutting local content and dj's. The economics are simple: you pay fewer people and you don't have any "local staff" headaches. Looks like you can do it with Weeklies too. Soon as the Weekly was sold it looked liked they started loading up their pages with canned crap from Phoenix or Denver or wherever they're from. Ask a Mexican, that god awful car column advertisement etc.

Posted by R. Zelinski | February 28, 2007 4:28 PM

I have to say this attack by Seiwerath has more to do with him being a lame "Stranger Genius" winner than anything else. If he hates us so much why is he always begging for sponsorhip from the "horrible" Seattle Weekly. Anyway our "chain writers" are a ton better than any piece of crap writers that the Stranger comes up with.
Maybe if they ran better movies over there we would give FIlm Forum an ad and then he could shut up.

Posted by pissed sw'er | February 28, 2007 4:56 PM

truth doth tumble forth - thanks number 10

Stranger stuff is ALWAYS about the Stranger herd, in high school it was the clique

I agree most play and movie reviews in the Stranger stink

Posted by John | February 28, 2007 5:06 PM

so, @10, you give away ads?

Posted by snacky | February 28, 2007 5:10 PM

Listen here, "p-oed sw"er, you don't understand what's at stake here.

It's not something as petty as journalism or freedom of speech. It's Annie Wagner's job. She has a right to defend her job as an alternative weekly movie reviewer in an age where everyone reads movie reviews on-line anyway, and her writing isn't so good that it's picked up by a large-market major newspaper. She needs her job. It keeps her in nice shoes. You guys OUTSOURCE your movie reviews, but that assumes that some "egghead" in New York or LA will have a more interesting review than Annie's, which we all know isn't the case.
Usually. Sometimes. But still, even if she's a cruddy film reviewer, she's SEATTLE's cruddy film reviewer!

But I guess someone like YOU wouldn't understand that. Because you've probably got stupid shoes.

You guys is Dan better? I heard he had a snowboarding accident. I prayed for him all night long. A little vigil.

Posted by Sam Chanderson | February 28, 2007 5:16 PM

@10: Of course J Hoberman is an excellent critic; the question is whether the anonymous editor who chopped up his review for the Weekly is up to the task. Also, anyone can fetch Hoberman's reviews on the Village Voice website. What's the point of recycling reviews if readers know they're being butchered en route?

Moreover, if you respect the New Times critics so much, it's curious that you simultaneously hold that the Northwest Film Forum programs terrible films. Unless the anonymous Seattle Weekly editor also fiddled with Hoberman's opinions, he thought Our Daily Bread was pretty decent. And opening on the 16th at NWFF is Climates, which made his top ten list for 2006.

Do you think Rivette is a terrible director? How about Agnes Varda? Jacques Demy? Mizoguchi? Anyone who thinks all films at NWFF suck is ignorant, stupid, and blind.

Posted by annie | February 28, 2007 5:24 PM

So will anyone else that would want to engage in a sponsorship with the New Times be publicly humiliated from their promotion & sponsorship staff?

The point is that the reviews are done out of state, not that the reviews are good or bad.

I understand the business reason for outsourcing, but perhaps they shouldn't be called the Seattle Weekly if the amount of staff writers vs contributors is weighted against local input. How about they call it what it is: The New Times, Seattle Edition.

Posted by media watcher | February 28, 2007 5:24 PM

So I've got no beef with the critisizing the Weekly for doing a piss poor editing job, but it seems like a big jump to go from this to "New Times has ruined all local media in the country."

Why all the vitriol for a paper running non-local content? Sure, it'd be better if local papers ran locally generated content, but the realities of any business make that a tough thing to fulfill. Have you ever read a small daily outside of a big city? Probably a couple stories by local staff supplemented with AP stories and AFP photos.

Savage Love is written here in Seattle, but it's run all over the country. Are the (local) papers buying SL selling their souls because they're running "foreign" content? What's the difference between buying a syndicated column and running content from a sister paper?

Posted by dct | February 28, 2007 5:57 PM

PLEASE NOTE: Our name is Village Voice Media not "New Times". We paid for top dollar for that cred and we want our moneys worth!

Posted by Exec | February 28, 2007 6:36 PM

So, Seattle Weekly promotions director, Kevin Patnik, has Film Forum really been "begging" for free ads? Is this true?

Posted by Marsha Gotlieb | February 28, 2007 7:01 PM

Just out of curiosity, p.o.'d sw'er, has anyone from your office contacted Mr. Hoberman to ask HIM what he thought of your hatchet-job on his review?

I don't think "Savage Love" is the best example to use in this case, dct. Yes, the column is written in Seattle, but it's not necessarily Seattle-specific, hence it's popularity as a syndicated piece; anyone can write in and get both their question and response printed, regardless of where they live, so really there's no such issue with "foreign content" so far as other papers are concerned, since it's just as possible people writing in live in places other than Seattle.

The main point that seems to be getting lost in all the "you are! No, YOU are! times infinity!" school-yard verbiage is that an editor at a presumably local publication chose to hack-and-paste (or more literally, hack) a review written several months ago and several thousand miles away. One has to wonder if the purpose for this was an apparent attempt to turn what was originally a glowlingly positive review into something less so, presumably because that better fit the editor's own opinion about the film. Why the editor couldn't simply have written their own review is anyone's guess, but it smacks not only of a kind of critical revisionism (since anyone with an internet connection could just go read the original review in its entirety), but if you actually do so, it's pretty clear that the "editing" was poorly executed; sloppy, inept, lazy, and done with little thought or regard for the original content; in short, hackneyed.

And that's certainly reason enough to make a complaint.

Posted by COMTE | February 28, 2007 9:29 PM



reviews are a system of free publicity among all else

any theater who carps too much can simply be OUT of the loop

that is the choice of editors and publishers - and they make use of it often

Posted by George | February 28, 2007 11:57 PM

whats all this he said she said
some ppl are just plain dumb~
who has time to dine in this snack culture?

Posted by Belltown RichE | March 1, 2007 4:22 AM

What people don't realize is that the media ownership landscape has changed drastically in just the last year. Frank Arhens of the Washington Post points to some of the events...

"Viacom split in two. Clear Channel is selling its TV stations and one-third of its radio stations. The New York Times sold its TV stations. The Knight Ridder newspaper chain dissolved. Tribune sold TV stations and may yet be broken up. Walt Disney sold its radio stations. Emmis Communications sold its TV stations. Wave after wave of deconsolidation."

Any cry for further ownership restrictions is based on hype and misinformation. I've been working with the national association of broadcasters on this issue for awhile now and the rules need to be relaxed so the old school media can compete with new school media.

Posted by Mark | March 1, 2007 8:00 AM


Yes, major media conglomerates are spinning off SOME of their acquisitions, but primarily in small-to-mid-sized markets where the profit margins are now too small to justify even the cut-to-the-bone operating expenses that have become the norm due to - ta-da! consolidation of these stations by BIG MEDIA.

Saying that the industry needs LESS restriction, because the big boys have decimated the industry and quashed competition through their decades-long process of gobbling up everything in sight is like saying an obese person doesn't really need to go on a diet, because they've already eaten everything in the house.

The whole point of regulation is to create a LEVEL playing field, so that the little guys can actually have a chance to compete against the big guys; removing restrictions even further doesn't do a thing in that regard, rather it simply gives the big guys carte-blanche to go into some other territory, whether it's print, Internet or what have you, where they've previously not been able to get a size-64 foothold, so that they can consolidate those particular media, just as they've done with broadcast radio and television.

It's exactly the same process that drove the timber industry more than a century ago: buy up huge amounts of resource-rich territory (often at ridiculously deflated prices - thanks to their predecessors the railroad barons), cut down every tree in sight with any board-feet worth selling, crush the smaller competition, and when they'd finished, leave a denuded landscape and devastated local economy, then sell off the remaining assets back to whomever could find a use for them, and move on to the next patch of territory with trees to cut, thus starting the process all over again.

Ask people in Georgia over the age of 65 if they remember their parents or grandparents talking about companies such as Georgia Hardwood Company (now Georgia Pacific), or older folks in Kansas about Long-Bell Lumber (now Longview Fibre), or those in Illinois about Weyerhaeuser, etc., all of which were early advocates of the same type of corporate scorched-earth mentality that drives the media industry today

Media consolidation is simply a contemporary form of this same practice. And just like the timber companies of the last century, now that they've effectively exhausted their supply of virgin forest, leaving the landscape bereft of exploitable resources, they're more than willing to rid themselves of the remaining stumpland, so they can move on to the next expanse of acreage, where they'll do exactly the same thing.

And you think it's a good idea to make it even easier for them to do this?

Posted by COMTE | March 1, 2007 9:40 AM

holy shit. another fine fefer/seely editing job! there are so many screw ups at the weekly that it's hard to keep track. and it's def a new times paper not vvm!

Posted by Harry Callahan | March 1, 2007 10:36 AM

I'm a proofreader by trade and I have to say if I let the kinds of errors slip by that are regularly found in VVM's Seattle Weekly, I would die of shame.

Posted by keshmeshi | March 1, 2007 10:50 AM

I picked up last week's Weekly (after last week's Stranger, it didn't seem so bad in comparison) and saw that, for that week's Ask an Uptight Whoever... that they replaced the Knute Berger doppleganger with a female doppleganger who looked curiously like ECB, with some familiar sounding responses to the fake letters.

Did anyone else pick up on this?

Posted by Gomez | March 1, 2007 11:15 AM

Now see, I thought ERica actually wrote that ... was it a joke?

Posted by Willard | March 1, 2007 7:33 PM

COMTE, regarding your second paragraph, you assume that all broadcasters are consolidated when in fact they are not. There are more than 11,000 radio stations owned by 3,155 different owners. There are 1,284 commercial TV stations controlled by at least 333 owners.

ALL these stations are competing with the new outlets available to consumers today. The FCC has tied the hands of stations. As a result, local news is in jeopardy.

Posted by Mark | March 2, 2007 7:46 AM


I don't disupte your raw numbers, but they purposefully tell only part of the story. Take a look at the local acquisitions of the major media conglomerates:

Disney, Burbank, CA [2003 sales $27 billion]
KKDZ 1250 AM (children’s)
[also owns: ABC, Disney Channel, ESPN, A&E, Lifetime, Walt Disney Pictures, Touchstone Pictures, Hollywood Pictures, Miramax Film Corp., US Weekly, Discover Magazine, Hyperion Books, 10 TV stations, 49 other radio stations, and other interests.

Viacom, New York [2001 sales $23.22 billion]
KBKS 106.1 FM ("KISS 106.1" adult contemporary)
KFNK 104.9 FM (‘Funky Monkey’)
KMPS 94.1 FM (country)
KRQI 96.5 FM (‘K-Rock’)
KPTK 1090 AM (Air America Radio)
KYPT 96.5 FM (‘The Point’)
KZOK 102.5 FM (classic rock)
[also owns: Infinity Radio (total 180 stations), CBS Television Network, MTV and BET Networks, Paramount Parks, Pictures, Television and Home Entertainment, CBS Enterprises, United Paramount Network (UPN), Showtime Networks, Viacom Television Stations Group, Comedy Central, Blockbuster Video, Viacom Plus, Viacom Outdoor, and Simon & Schuster among other interests.

Comcast Philadelphia [2003 sales $18.35 billion]
local cable TV/broadband Internet franchisee
[Nation's largest cable provider. also owns: cable TV/broadband franchises across the country, QVC, and other interests.]

Clear Channel San Antonio [2001 sales $7.97 billion]
KUBE 93.3 FM (‘Seattle's #1 Hits’)
KJR 95.7 FM ('Super Hits of the 60s and 70s’)
KHHO 8450 AM (‘Fox Sports’)
KJR 950 AM (sports)
[also owns: 37 TV stations including KVOS (Bellingham), and over 1200 radio stations nationwide, plus another 250 or so radio stations overseas, and a national billboard/outdoor advertising operation, among other interests.]

Tribune Broadcasting, Chicago [2001 sales $5.25 billion]
KCPQ-TV (Fox Q-13)
[also owns: 13 newspapers including the Chicago Tribune and the Hartford Courant, 22 more TV stations, 4 radio stations and other interests.]

Cox Broadcasting Atlanta [2001 sales $4.07 billion]
[also owns: 14 more tv stations and 82 radio stations nationwide, as well as the Atlanta Constitution, over 17 daily and 30 weekly newspapers and magazines and other interests.]

Hearst Corporation New York [2001 sales $4 billion]
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
[also owns: A&E, ESPN, Lifetime Network, 11 more daily papers, many national magazines and commercial websites, and the King Features Syndicate, among other broadcasting, publishing, distribution and other interests.]

Belo, Inc. Dallas [2001 sales $1.37 billion]
Northwest Cable News
[also owns: 16 more tv stations, 6 cable channels, the Dallas Morning News, the Providence Journal (RI), the Press-Enterprise (Riverside, CA) and the Denton Record-Chronicle.]

Seattle Times Company Seattle [2001 sales $388 million]
Seattle Times
[also owns: seven additional newspapers in Washington and Maine, and related websites. Knight-Ridder, Inc. (, San Jose, CA) is a minority (49%) shareholder. Knight-Ridder owns over 36 daily newspapers, along with other periodicals, broadcasting and Internet interests.]

Entercom Communications Philadelphia [2001 sales $332.9 million]
KQBZ 100.7 FM (‘The Buzz’)
KISW 99.9 FM (‘The Rock’)
KMTT 103.7 FM (‘The Mountain’)
KNDD 107.7 FM (‘The End’)
KNWX 1210 AM (‘The Business Station’)
[also owns: 94 more radio stations nationwide.]

Seattle is a mid-sized market, and one can easily project these figures to other similarly-sized or larger markets. So, if you're point is that media consolidation doesn't have any detrimental effect on local media access, clearly that's not the case. Many of the remaining stations, besides being one or two station operations, are either NPR/pubilc broadcasting, college/academically based, or low-power community based stations, and most of these are in markets too small to serve the profit imperatives of media conglomerates; not that that hasn't stopped them from making acquisitions in these smaller markets, but in their ongoing quest to maximize shareholder value, they are just now starting to spin off these smaller, unprofitable stations, often back to the same owners from which they were previously purchased. And these sell-offs have tended to be in very small markets indeed, where there are only a handful of stations, and thus very little competitive advantage to be gained by the cost-cutting, staff-gutting practices of the media giants.

As someone in the industry, can think I can say with a reasonable level of assurance that local news reporting ISN'T being jeopardized because the FCC is "hampering" the acquisition of even more media outlets by these conglomerates, but rather because, in their quest for profit, they themselves have severely reduced or even completely eliminated news departments, which tend to be expensive to run, and have consolidated news reporting functions into the hands of a smaller staff, while redistributing the work product to more stations, just as they've done for years with announcing functions.

Loosening restrictions even further won't result in an increase in the quality or variety of news reporting; quite the opposite in fact, as the trend since Reagan-era deregulation has instead resulted in fewer voices on the airwaves, and less choice for consumers. Believing that even further deregulation would cause this trend to magically reverse itself defies both logic and prevailing industry practice.

Posted by COMTE | March 5, 2007 9:45 AM

One last thing: it should also be noted that most of these small-market stations don't generate their own news product in any case, they purchase it from the major media outlets, usually through some sort of affiliation network. So, even if they remain under local ownership, they're still receiving their news feeds from the major media conglomerates.

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