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Friday, May 14, 2004

Journalism. 

Jeff over at Otto's Coffee Shop makes his statement about comics journalism, and what he'd like to see.

I'll tell you where [the good] stories are: they don't exist because the companies involved don't owe the fans or the creators squat, so they don't have to cooperate in any stories.

[...]

Marvel, DC, Diamond: they aren't answerable to fans, so they have no reason to play along with "news" sites or magazines who don't play along with them. I doubt I'm the only one who's noticed recently that even Rich Johnston, once the freest talker in comics, has been keeping his trap shut (he allegedly knew about Joss Whedon on X-Men a month before the news borke, but he never printed it) except for items that the big companies are ready to "leak" (he even presents "leaks" from his own publisher as "news" or "rumor" each week!). If, as a comics journalist, you piss off your sources (or the upper management of your sources), you lose what little news you get. I have little doubt in my mind that if DC told Newsarama to stop doing their monthly analysis of sales figure estimates (such as they are), Newsarama would stop in a heartbeat, as Matt Brady knows that pissing off DC means that he loses "exclusive" DC "news" and access to DC's creators (at least those who want to keep their jobs).


And here's what I said, awhile ago:

The rest of the quasi-journalists, they take what the company gives us, thank them for that, and run back to the rest of us to fill us in on what scraps got thrown to us from the table. For a real journalist, that's not enough. The fact that most of our "news" comes from rumor mills like Lying in the Gutters says to me that publishers have erected a wall between themselves and the readers, and that we, as readers, are satisfied with that. That we'll accept that, and let them jerk us around and wait like obedient lapdogs for the next morsel to fall.

[...]

No such luck in comics journalism. The publishers, at least the large ones, have made their decision that we're not really worth the time and have kept us on a need-to-know basis. This hurts them and it hurts us. Treating the reporting half of the comics community like servants is exactly what keeps the comic book art form a "hobby" instead of, well, instead of an "art form." We cannot be perceived as big business if we are not treated as big business on all sides of the game.

Don't get me wrong: This isn't me laying the blame at the feet of the Big Two alone. No. Our news sites are pitiful and we've allowed them to be pitiful and we haven't kicked them in the ass enough to strive for more.


Jeff's money questions: 1) What is news in the comic book field? 2) What constitutes investigative journalism? 3) How can interviews become less PR fodder and more actual journalism?

1) Hard to say, sometimes. What constitutes news for some people (change in creative teams, Reload, etc) does not constitute news for others... but the same applies in any media. For some folks, what director's been assigned to a new movie project doesn't matter until the movie itself is up there on the big screen; others want to know what's going on on the set day by day. As I pointed out in the above-cited entry, though, I think something like the Gaiman vs. MacFarlane case, and the Newsarama piece about its ramifications to the industry at large, is an excellent example of what comics news should be like.

As with any creative field, there's the business side of things and the creative side of things. We get a monthly analysis of DC sales numbers, maybe some press releases about hirings and firings, and that's the business side. We get press releases about new series coming out with new creative teams, some interviews with the writer or artist, and that's the creative side covered.

Pitiful, eh?

2) Investigative reporting is not reactionary. So far, all manner of comic book journalism is reactionary; that is, the "reporters" go after a story after it's already happened and fill in the details. An investigative journalist poses a question out of the ether -- say, "how's DC responding, internally and externally, to Marvel's partnership with B&N?" -- and then gets out there and finds the fuck out. I've seen almost nothing of that sort in comics journalism.

3) Still deciding on that one. The interview series I'm doing with Larry Young now are about 50% PR and 50% me trying out something new, and I'm uncertain what defines a "real" interview in contrast to a piece of puff. ADD pretty much had it right with his 5 Questions, tracking down writers and artists and the like and just talking to them about their work in general, instead of whatever latest piece they're trying to sell. Do we have anyone right now that can pick up that torch? I'm not sure. Kevin Melrose has the interviewing chops, but I don't know his status in the comics world at large.

These are probably not satisfactory answers, but the questions are worthy ones, and worth investigation. Go over to Jeff's and answer his questions in his Comments, and then start thinking about what you can do for comics journalism.

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