Why does this matter? Ultimately, to the average theme park fan, it probably doesn't. Any story about big business and journalism media these days inevitably becomes a Rorschach test, onto which readers can project whatever thoughts and beliefs they already held about the people and institutions involved.
That said, the details, this time, are this: Disney didn't like what the LA Times wrote in a two-part series last September about its various deals with the City of Anaheim. So Disney barred the Times' movie reviewers from advance screenings of its films, including this week's Thor: Ragnarok.
If this sounds familiar, it's because Disney pulled the same thing on the Times last year — barring a Times reporter from the premiere of the Frozen musical at Disney California Adventure after he'd quoted an executive of a big Chinese firm who'd smack-talked Shanghai Disneyland.
So, here's my take, in three parts:
1) Disney has every right as a private (*okay, to be more precise, publicly-traded but not 'public as in government' owned) company to decide whom to talk with and which outlets to invite to media events and screenings. The Times can buy a ticket to review stuff if Disney doesn't let it have a free advance look. (Heck, I've done that plenty of times when Disney and other companies have either ignored me or frozen me out in the past.)
2) Disney had valid reasons to be upset with things in both instances of the Times' coverage. I've already explained why the Times' series on Disney and Anaheim was under-reported and lack vital context. The 2016 piece about Shanghai Disneyland gave significant play to anti-Disney comments from Wanda Group's Wang Jianlin, who talked big game but a year later tucked tail and ran, bailing out of the Chinese theme park business.
3) Points 1 and 2 don't matter, because what in the world was Disney thinking that the Times — and its readers — would do in response to these snubs?
Today's snub just gave the Times and every news organization that covered the attempted media blackout an excuse to link the September two-part series, exposing it to thousands, if not millions, of additional readers who would not have given those stories a thought had Disney done nothing to retaliate.
Keeping LA Times reviewers from seeing the latest Thor movie in advance won't do a thing to hurt readership at the Times, either. No one is buying the LA Times just for the movie reviews. In fact, the people who pay closest attention to the Times' Hollywood coverage are industry insiders who are collectively rolling their eyes at Disney today after what the company pulled. Disney is more likely to hurt its own movies' Oscar, SAG Award, and Golden Globe campaigns by trying to bully the LA Times' movie staff than it is to hurt the Times itself.
People who make decisions by looking to the past always lose to those who look instead to the future to guide their choices. It's not about whether someone has done you right or wrong in the past. It's about doing whatever will play out the best for you in the future. That's stone cold effective leadership.
I can't believe that anyone at Disney gamed out this decision before making it. There's just no upside for Disney is banning LA Times reporters from movie screenings and theme park premieres. There was no reason to get upset about Wang Jianlin's smack talk. Time took care of him. And time would have taken care of the September series on its own, too. The only way that those stories were going to get any additional attention was if Disney did something like this to draw attention to them.
Anyway, yeah, I probably should mention that I write a weekly column about theme parks for the Orange County Register, which competes with the Times and which slammed the Times' September reports about Disneyland. But before that, I worked for the Times, where among other duties I worked as the website editor for the Times' movie and Hollywood coverage. And in between, I edited a journalism review for the University of Southern California, where I wrote frequently about conflicts such as this. (Just to illustrate how everything is tied together in this town, the current dean of USC's journalism school is Willow Bay — Disney CEO Bob Iger's wife. FWIW, I was long gone by the time she arrived.)
Like I said, it's all a Rorschach test. See in this whatever you'd like.Tweet
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