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The State of Pajiba

By Dustin Rowles | Miscellaneous | January 17, 2011 |

By Dustin Rowles | Miscellaneous | January 17, 2011 |

Running a website with aspirations of commercial viability will inevitably run into conflicts, as we have over the years. As the personality and identity of the site has evolved since 2004, there have always been certain internal and external conflicts. We began as a film review site exclusively, added television coverage a couple of years later, then the occasional trade news post and trailer, before adding features (the Guides), Pajiba Love, regular news coverage, “Lost” recaps, seriously random lists, the Cannonball Read, videos, Career Assessments, comedy pieces, a celebrity column, and even, now, a sex and a sports column. Each progression has been met with some resistance, both from readers and the writers, but ultimately, everything has been embraced to differing degrees. For the most part, anyway.

Though tensions still exist and always will, from my perspective, the place has never been better, and I’ve never had more fun putting the site together each day. To me, the contributions on this site have reached a sublime balance between fun and insightful, thoughtful and frivolous, intelligent and entertaining, rage and levity. We’re veteran enough now that I don’t feel like we need to prove ourselves or satisfy a certain expectation, and there’s a certain freedom in that. The Community still manages to grow, to spin-off onto Facebook or other sites, and yet it hasn’t become diluted. If there’s anything I’m more proud of than the exceptionally talented writers the site has collected over the years, mostly plucked from the comments section and other readers, it’s the community itself, which knows when to be thoughtful and when to retire to the boudoir.

But the tension still exists. We have similar enough sensibilities to congregate in one place, but our personalities and our opinions vary. For myself, there’s always a certain internal tension. How can I write about the reprehensible sexualization of rape in one post and rant about Christina Hendricks’ breast in another? How do I maintain a feminist slant while commenting on the sexual attraction of a woman (or a man)? Where’s the line between objectification and appreciation? Is there a line? Do I show Odette Yustman’s ass as a comment on Hollywood’s exploitation of it, or am I exploiting it myself? The line often blurs even for me, and it’s then when I have to remind myself to be thoughtful about it, but not overthink it. Add to that other competing interests: I have a kid for whom I want to be a decent role model, but I also want to feed and clothe him. I also have a professional wife who I don’t want to embarrass. I’m not always successful in that regard.

I spend more time than I might should reflecting on the direction of the site. There are days when I worry that we don’t maintain a properly strict focus on film and television. How do Michael Murray’s comedy posts fit into that? Why is Jason Harris writing about his divorce? How does C. Robert Dimitri’s sports columns jibe? Pajiba debates? The sex column? Why is Courtney writing about Snooki? Why am I doing silly shit like the reconditioning the libido posts? But 90 percent of the time, my feeling is this: It’s what makes Pajiba what it is. It’s what makes it different than every other film and television blog. As long as it’s well written, thoughtful, or provocative in some way, it seems to fit with the personality of the site. It may alienate some, but it’s also what sets us apart from the rest. Movie blogs are a dime a dozen, but few juggle insight and playfulness as well as I think the writers here do.

What about those reviews? The focus of the site. We write more than we ever have, and for the most part, we’ve managed to maintain the no publicists rule. We don’t do give aways; we don’t do set visits; we don’t and won’t do junkets; we don’t associate with filmmakers or talent; and we don’t seek access, and we certainly don’t trade access for positive coverage. There are no conflicts of interests, and we go above and beyond the principles laid out by the Society of Professional Journalist Code of Ethics. But, out of necessity, we have relaxed our no advanced screening policy. We’ve never been about being first with our reviews; ours are good enough, I think, to hold up, even if they aren’t released until the day a movie is released (or shortly thereafter). But financially, it just wasn’t viable for Brian to pay $10 - $15 a piece to see four or five indie flicks a week, which often don’t generate a lot of page views, and Dan’s day job conflicted with the Friday reviewing schedule. It was more important to me to hold on to Dan and Brian than maintain a strict, and sometimes arbitrary, no advanced screening policy. It’s clear from their reviews that that very limited access hasn’t influenced their opinions. And we still run most of them on the day of release, as we always have. Because it’s not about being first; being first is what you do when you have nothing else to fall back on. Moreover, if it means that TK can review a few of the big comic-book movies this summer (instead of me), we may relax it with regard to him, as well.

And what about The Hollywood Cog? He has had a huge impact on the focus of the site during the last year, as his scoops brought us visibility, but also brought us a lot of criticism for our small contribution to micro-reporting and trade news gossip mongering. But the biggest lesson we learned from that ongoing experience is this: Stay true to your audience. We’re not a scoop site, and I got caught up in it. There are sites that do that remarkably well: Slashfilm, Deadline, The Playlist, The Wrap. We’re not one of those sites. We don’t make the news; we mock the news. We make fun of the process, and I don’t particularly want Pajiba to be a part of that process. We will continue to use the Cog’s information, but we will use it in a way that befits this site. We’ll report it, but only against the backdrop of the broken Hollywood system.

A lot of people in this industry suggest you should write for yourself and not your audience. In most cases, that’s a terrible fucking business plan. But I’ve found that the more fun we’re having with the content, the more receptive our audience seems to be. We’re not trying to gain massive mainstream appeal — there’s a ceiling to anything that calls itself Pajiba, not least of which is that two-thirds of our own readers can’t pronounce it correctly. But we can slowly pick up the smaller base of like-minded readers until we’ve gained them all. We want to be serious, but never self serious, and fun, but not at the expense of intelligence. I hope to maintain a nice mix of thoughtful and frivolous posts throughout the year and beyond and I hope to hell that we hang on to every writer we currently have, because they are fucking fantastic and right now, they are killing it.

And that’s where we are in 2011, folks, three days ahead of the Sundance Film Festival. If you have complaints or grievances, here’s where you air them. I may dismiss some, I may implement others, but I promise to read and consider them all.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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