The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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An embarrassment for Universal: Fabricated news stories

This is the time of year when movie studios do their part to support America's economically challenged journalistic institutions -- at least publications like the L.A. Times, Variety and the New York Times -- by buying big chunks of Oscar ads to promote the season's leading awards contenders. But Universal Pictures has outdone all its rivals. The studio just paid $20,000 to the Alaska Press Club as part of a settlement with several Alaska newspapers after the studio, in the course of promoting its current release, "The Fourth Kind," created an elaborate series of online news stories that professed to be from real Alaska news publications.

The_fourth_kind_poster The film claims to be a true story about an outbreak of alien abduction occurring a decade ago in Nome, Alaska. As Fairbanks' Daily News-Miner reports:

"To bolster that claim, articles were posted that professed to be from real Alaska publications, but were actually created to bolster the movie's storyline. The articles included an obituary and news story about the death of a character in the movie, Dr. William Tyler, that supposedly were from the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. Neither the story nor the obituary ever appeared in the newspaper. Fake articles were listed from other newspapers in Alaska, including the Nome Nugget, alongside authentic news stories. Part of the settlement requires Universal to remove the fake 'news articles' promoting the movie from the Internet."

An attorney representing the Alaskan newspapers said the fake stories undermine newspaper credibility, since "if people can't rely on the fact that when they look at a news article on the Web that it's from the newspaper it appears to be ... it erodes confidence in the world of journalism." The good news is that Universal's $20,000 immediately doubled the Alaska Press Club's annual revenues (I'm not joking).

Although the scam is something of a black eye for Universal, I'd be hard pressed to call it a threat against the future of journalism. If the movie had simply used fictional newspapers instead of real ones, no one would have ever raised a fuss. But in today's Hollywood, where people often float preposterous claims about movie budgets or test screenings, no one seems to notice the difference between reality and make believe. Studios also routinely use all sorts of questionable stealth Web marketing tactics to create viral buzz for their movies. It was just this July that the Wall Street Journal exposed 20th Century Fox for paying a high school valedictorian to plug the studio's "I Love You, Beth Cooper" in her valedictory address, which the studio promptly put up on YouTube, attempting to pass it off as an authentic homemade video.

Still, it's always embarrassing to be caught, even if the stunt seems more clumsy than conspiratorial. Clearly chagrined, a Universal spokesperson e-mailed me the following statement, which if nothing else  makes it clear that the studio should hire a good reporter so its apologies wouldn't sound so stilted and awkward. Here's what Universal has to say:

 "An early element of the online promotional campaign for 'The Fourth Kind' used stories published by some news outlets without permission and inaccurately attributed other stories to papers that were not their origin. When Universal Pictures came to recognize this tactic as overzealous, it immediately removed these stories from the Internet well before the film's release and entered into a mutually satisfactory resolution with the outlets. The film itself challenges conventional beliefs by presenting cases of alien abduction and asking viewers to make up their own minds about its content. Universal regrets that this isolated element of the marketing for the film took this speculation a step too far."

RELATED:

FOX NABBED BY ITS OWN NEWSPAPER IN LAME 'BETH COOPER' VIRAL SCAM:

 
Comments () | Archives (6)

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Universal just got $20,000 worth of advertising and press. Much cheaper than if they were to do a big media push. Brilliant if you ask me.


You gotta be pretty pathetic to call this anything less than pathetic.
Universal's methods are questionable and unethical. If you want to just make a buck, wear a mini and go walk the corner of downtown. Turning tricks @Universal is pretty low. Milla needs to come out and apologize to the audience. Pretty sad day for entertainment.

So, now we know what Lou Dobbs is doing with himself.

Yes, "if" they had used fake newspaper names, it "would have" been okay.

And "if" you had half a gram of intelligence and maybe some ethics, you could be a real journalist.

Faking news is called FRAUD, you moron.

And I'm sure Universal is SO embarrassed about all the extra FREE press coverage it got for getting caught promoting its movie in the press, who gladly mentioned the movie they're promoting.


There is another story here that is the extension of a significant effort to censor posts against universal. Take a look at the Facebook sight for the Fourth Kind. You will notice several people complaining about very heavy handed censorship on the site in regards to anything that has to do with even a link to this very article. Go ahead and give it a shot. Put up a link to this article on the wall, and say something in regards to universal censorship or something about universal practicing piracy while preaching against it. Then watch your posts removed, sometimes within seconds. There is something wrong with America when the supposedly cutting edge platform for discussion is censored heavily. I am really sad to see this heavy handed censorship at facebook.


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