Five Questions for THR’s Alex Ben Block

We here at FBLA love tips and we love talking shop. So we were delighted a couple of weeks ago when we got an email from The Hollywood Reporter’s senior editor Alex Ben Block, letting us know about a little story he had written: an interview with James Cameron in which the director went off on Glenn Beck.

Block’s Cameron piece exploded across the Web and was one of THR’s biggest stories in years. He was pumped about it. Last week on John Rabe’s blog, Block wrote a piece about how the story had reinvigorated his love for journalism.

That’s rare enough these days that we figured we’d ask him more about it. Block talks Cameron, adapting to the Internet era and his paper’s supposed flirtation with Nikki Finke after the jump:

FBLA: Did you anticipate Cameron would go off like he did when you asked your question? Were you angling for a Glenn Beck rant, or did you have something else in mind?

ABB: I had no idea when I sat down with James Cameron at the “Avatar” home video press event that he would react so strongly. All I knew was that after waiting hours I was limited to one question, so I had better make it something interesting. It quickly became clear after I raised the issue of how his critics on the right would react to the environmental theme of the promotion this was something deeply felt by Cameron, and that he had really thought about. I only mentioned Glenn Beck after we got into it as I knew Beck was someone who had been critical of movies that he perceived to have a political slant opposed to his own worldview. Of course as a journalist, I knew immediately that I had struck a gusher once Cameron reacted so strongly, so I did what I have done most of my life. I shared the news with as many people as possible — but in this age, I knew to do it as quickly as possible.

FBLA: You wrote in your John Rabe Blog post that a journalist who breaks a story gets “15 seconds of credit before it’s a commodity on the web?” I’m assuming you see this as a bad thing? Any way to rail against that trend, or is futile at this point?

ABB: Like all things, the new media landscape requires a significant adjustment and we the media are still figuring this out. It is disheartening to work on a story for weeks, days, even hours, and then see a version of it on other web sites soon after with no attribution. But it is a fact of life today in the media. So we learn little tricks like making our best sources swear they won’t give it to anyone else, or making it a commentary that has a unique informed point of view that is difficult for anyone to copy, or using quotes that they can only use if credited. A good journalist often has a bit of Don Quixote in his soul so of course it is not a matter of whether it is futile to rail, it is that we have to tilt at these windmills, if only for our own salvation. If we journalists can’t shine a light on worthwhile causes, even if they look lost, then the advertising driven, government run official sources will be all that is out there, and that is even worse. Hopefully over time, our readers recognize who has it first and who gets it right, who provides context as well as news, and gives a journalist credit — and becomes a loyal reader.

Publish date: April 12, 2010 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT