One Guy’s Simple Explanation for the Disney / LA Times Fight

I hate to see friends fight.

Like me, you may have been watching the fight between Disney and the Los Angeles Times over journalism, and early-access to Disney projects. It got more interesting yesterday, when the A.V. Club announced they would no longer attend Disney press screenings until the LA Times could.

Now look, I barely have a dog in this fight, but I know a bit about the industry after spending some years around it. Some people online do not understand why this is a problem, or what is wrong with this picture.

To help explain, I’m reposting a quick primer on the relationship between media companies like Disney and the Los Angeles Times that I originally wrote on Reddit:

In any consumer-based ecosystem, public relations make up a huge part of their marketing stream. It’s absolutely vital to them to have large media outlets talking about their product, discussing their product, reviewing their product. Media outlets, in turn, know that some of their readership are turning to them to know whether or not an upcoming product (in this case movies) are worth consuming and this readership factors into their entire reason for existence. One of the quiet rules of this relationship is You give us access and we’ll give you press / You give us press and we’ll give you access. Is this a symbiotic relationship? Absolutely. Is it ethical? No more or less ethical than a marriage where one spouse works and the other one keeps house. Sure, they could do the job on their own, but they’re much more successful when working as a unit.

Now, Disney is turning a symbiotic relationship into a dysfunctional relationship.Disney’s threatening the relationship and the rules that govern it. It’d be like a husband going “Hey, I didn’t like how you made dinner, so I’m not going to work” or a wife going “hey, we don’t make enough money, so I’m withholding sex.”

Actually, it’s even worse, because the animus is one-sided. The LA Times didn’t malicously report on Disney’s behavior. Disney didn’t even deny that it was happening. Disney’s acting in an abusive way by saying “even though I know you have to work, you’re not working enough forĀ me.” They’re dog-whistling to the LA Times that they think they really wear the pants in the family and if the news org knows what’s good for them, they’ll get into line. It’s a toxic, dysfunctional effort at brinksmanship, but that’s why AV Club’s involvement is so important.

AV Club in this case is acting like the neighbor who knows both spouses and calls out the abusive spouse on their behavior. “Hey,” they’re saying, “if you like having me to dinner, you’ll sort this out like yesterday. I won’t tolerate this in my presence and if you go forward with this, you won’t find a lot of shoulders to cry on.”

If Disney is smart, they’ll figure a way out of this because as of right now, they aren’t coming off well. At the same time, we go through this every few years and the LA Times is by no means innocent of acting poorly.

Media outlets have occasionally gotten too big for their britches, too. One side of the table or others starts throwing its weight around, the other side stands up for itself and we all learn valuable lessons.

Remember the 2008 Writers Strike? Exactly. Stuff bubbles up, we yell, things get worked out, and life moves on.

This, too, shall pass.

Update – This has already passed … Disney ended the ban on the Los Angeles Times