More on Journamalism

200806251242 More on JournamalismDollar Bin has the audio of the infamous Covering Comics panel from Heroes Con up, so you can judge for yourselves how pathetic we sound.

God, this is depressing. How can intelligent people say this stuff and not acknowledge what’s coming out of their mouths? This isn’t journalism, or criticism, this is public relations. Promotion. It’s disgusting.


Participant Johanna has her own comments:

At this point, I said, “I’m glad I have a day job” because it gives me a certain amount of independence from corporate pressure; I don’t care if I piss someone off, because I don’t answer to anyone but myself. (Later, several people asked me if I was a librarian — apparently, I have that air. No, I’m not. I work in a corporate communications department for a real estate-related financial services company, where I write, proofread, copy edit, manage projects, and maintain websites.) Heidi and Matt both acknowledged altering their coverage to keep publishers happy to maintain the possibility of future stories.


I wouldn’t say that I’d “alter” a story to keep a publisher “happy”, but I may have used that word, so I’ll take my lumps. I have certainly run corrections from publishers. As I’ve said many times, here and on the panel, I have too many personal connections in this industry to begin to be objective or have the kind of independence a real journalist needs.

The panel also provides my best friend Dirk Deppey with a new opportunity to give us all a schoolin’:



Still, I’m sure Newsarama and The Beat will get to the bottom of things and set us all straight on the subject. After all, without responsible news outlets like these, we’d all be left with nothing more than wild guesses and baseless speculation to go by…


This was proceeded, I suppose, by Dirk’s attempt to get to the bottom of Marvel’s current overprinting policy, which relied mostly on some message board postings and quoting Rich Johnston. A few days earlier it was proceeded by Dirk writing
this:

The most striking (and admittedly anecdotal) example I’ve heard — from multiple sources — would be the way that Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson’s Transmetropolitan was moved from the company’s failed sci-fi line Helix over to its Vertigo division, where it was allegedly resented by editor Karen Berger for being “imposed from outside” and thus treated like Vertigo’s Ugly Duckling ever after, regardless of its obvious sales potential. I’ve been told again and again that this sort of thinking makes up a good chunk of DC’s corporate atmosphere; if this is true, then it must be considered a factor in virtually everything that happens there.


Which was followed up by this from Transmetropolitan founding editor Stuart Moore

While Karen Berger and I had our differences during that time, I can tell you there was absolutely no resistance on her part to bringing the book over to Vertigo. She was nothing but supportive of it. In fact, DC gave issue #13, the first under the Vertigo imprint, an extra promotional push — I think it was an overship, but I can’t swear to that. I do know that Warren worked with Karen and Vertigo consistently for several years after that, notably on the graphic novel ORBITER with Colleen Doran. And TRANSMET, like PREACHER, SANDMAN, and THE INVISIBLES, was consistently and regularly collected into trade paperbacks before that was the norm.


I myself am a member of the legion of TRANSMET editors — we number in the thousands — and I can state that for all the problems I had at Vertigo, TRANSMET being an “Ugly Duckling” wasn’t one of them. It was a hard book to market because it ran chronically late, and only came out at all because Rodney Ramos and Nathan Eyring stayed up for 48 hour stretches working on it. See? That’s what happens when you listen to baseless speculation.

Of course I can’t blame Dirk for getting that level of tittle tattle wrong. Being a real journalist (which I am not) requires building up sources and trust and so on. It takes a while.

It also requires, as the panel audio above shows, a dividing line between editorial and advertising that is made of adamantium reinforced granite. Creatve Loafing editor Carlton Hargro — whom I would indeed have liked to hear more from — mentioned that at his own paper there were pissed off advertisers who withdrew their ads (only to come crawling back eventually) and this is a reality that every professional news source must deal with. Ironically, the waterless toilet ads on Newsarama that look so odd may be the way to getting a little more journalistic independence, but the road ahead is a long one.

As long as I’m on a defensive roll, Joe Willy at Red Flag takes me to task for yelling at everyone for reporting baseless speculation one day while just a few days before I was reporting rumors from the floor. The quote that Willy uses “”While rumors on the floor of the con were running to Didio…”” is actually an accurate report on what people were speculating about, based on — full circle here we come! — Warren Ellis‘s own rather incendiary speculation over who was leaving DC. I don’t run every rumor or bar complaint I hear, but this is one time the rumors themselves were the story.

Anyway, I’m not going to get into any kind of point by point refutation here; I make plenty of mistakes and have plenty of conflicts of interest. I do pledge, however, to bring only the highest level, best-sourced speculation and tittle tattle to this blog, and not stuff like “I heard down at the comic shop that Dan DiDio only got his job because he has naked pictures of Grant Morrison!”

Finally, on one level this is a little alarming and circle-jerky. It’s sad when who writes what about comics gets more play than the fact that Image’s publisher doesn’t know the name of his own books, but, you know, that’s how it goes.

Comments

  1. I’ve found this whole conversation about comics journalism very interesting and a tad frustrating. As a professional journalist (for nearly a decade now) working in a small state (Vermont), I run into conflicts of interest a lot. Am I allowed the write about the same politician that I had a few drinks with down at the bar one night? Should I accept their friend’s request on FaceBook? These questions are always swirling through my mind.

    But writing about comics is essentially covering a whole field of publications. Stories about new books, new creative teams or character changes are essential for a field based around these mythologies and personalities. As a reader of comics, I require these stories. As a creator of comics, I hope these stories will be written about my own books.

    What seems to be lacking in comics journalism is the sense that this is a business. Maybe comics needs a really good full-time business reporter? Most of the major comics news Web sites shy away from this coverage. It’s hard to write and a little boring to read – but that doesn’t make it any less vital.

    It almost leaves two strands of comics journalism out there: The major Web sites are the PR arm of the industry and the blogs – which are more often that not drive by volunteers with no financial obligations to the companies – is where the analysis, the investigative reporting, and, yes, the speculation, often occurs.

    One hand is doing what the other isn’t. And that doesn’t seem too different from the world of political reporting, where the blogs have filled a journalistic gap formed by the Swiss cheese approach to news writing that many of the large, national outlets have taken.

  2. Lawson says:

    Heidi says: “As I’ve said many times, here and on the panel, I have too many personal connections in this industry to begin to be objective or have the kind of independence a real journalist needs.”

    Mmm. Yeah, with all due respect, I’ve noticed that. But I’m not really aware of any true journalists who cover the comics industry, in the sense of people who are consistently accurate, honest and independent. Generally, the industry is covered by folks who work in it; or who have worked in it and continue to have buddies in it; or who hope to work in it once they’ve buttered enough buns. Or some combination thereof.

    So as a reader, I realize a lot of the time that I’m basically getting a press release as issued by a comics publisher, and there won’t always be interest in serious criticism of what’s just been published, for fear it will hurt somebody’s feelings or — worse — cut off access the next time Heidi or whoever needs a call returned.

    I don’t know if most industries are covered like this or if the comics industry is unique. I suspect it’s not unique. If I had to guess, I’d say the same fear about access and chummy relations probably weaken most specialty publications that try to focus on one industry.

  3. R. Maheras says:

    I was a public relations manager in the appliance industry for nearly a year and a half, and part of my job was to generate as much product placement and product reviews for my company’s line of products as possible — particularly when we rolled out our new models.

    This involved widespread and regular contact with writers/editors for home products-related magazines (“Consumer Reports,” “Good Houskeeping,” etc.), industry trade magazines (“Dealerscope,” “Appliance Magazine,” etc.), Web sites, and newspapers. I also developed product placement relationships with producers of TV shows (“Price is Right,” etc.) and the film industry.

    Most of the journalists I dealt with understood perfectly well that the bulk of the information I provided would be in the form of a press release or taken directly from the fact sheets that we developed for every product. As a private company, we were not obligated to provide financial information (including sales), personnel information or testing information for any publication, and we normally didn’t.

    That said, we were also well aware that, say, “Consumer Reports” would examine and evaluate our products based on their own criteria. Still, we could and did cooperate with their queries as much as possible, and, when unveiling a significant new product line, even sent our product experts to their headquarters in New York to have a candid sit-down with them about the new appliances.

    All these relationships had to take place with “conflict of interest” issues in the back of everyone’s mind.

    But I think most of the journalists I dealt with realized that they needed access to us almost as much as we needed coverage by them. And while some comic book industry journalists are criticized for frequently regurgitating press releases and such, it wasn’t any different in the appliance industry with the scores of editors I worked with regarding my company’s new products.

  4. snoid says:

    The Comics Journal does what you are asking for Lawson.

  5. I don’t understand the criticism. Are you supposed to be digging through John Nee’s trash? This is entertainment journalism on the Internet, not the Watergate investigation. It may sting when these naysayers realize that, but even so that doesn’t merit an apology from you or any other 4 color pundit.

  6. The Beat says:

    Snoid, they used to. They no longer have an investigative news section.

  7. snoid says:

    Well it’s been a long time since I bought a issue, I didn’t know they stopped.

  8. Altering content to please publishers should never be done. Newsarama, by virtue of their name for starters, tries to imply they are conveying news. News should be the news, not the work of a shill. It seems that simple and “in defense…” and his retort of

    “So quit bitching about the “standards” of a blogger, comics or otherwise, because there are none, and there shouldn’t be.”

    just ignores the whole part where the blogger pretends to be a journalist, as Matt Brady does. Just listening to him discuss the Siegel/Superman case and how today there would be “repercussions” and “spankings” is sort of nauseating. He seems to be saying he would be afraid to run that story today, no? Or that he would only run with the permission of DC?

  9. But I’m not really aware of any true journalists who cover the comics industry, in the sense of people who are consistently accurate, honest and independent.

    You do read Tom Spurgeon’s Comicsreporter.com, don’t you? If The Beat and Journalista are more personality-driven–and as link-blogs more than straight up news sources, there’s nothing wrong with that–Comicsreporter is probably the best thing the industry has in terms of journalism-journalism.

  10. The Beat says:

    I often hear the Comics Reporter mentioned as a spot for journalism, and I think Tom is am excellent writer and editor. He does great reviews, and great linkage and his commentary is always worth considering ven when I disgree with it. But is there any real reporting on the site? I know Tom has done this kind of reporting in the past, but I don’t think TCR as it stands now is breaking news on any regular basis.

    I’d happily be proven wrong.

  11. R. Maheras says:

    It’s tough to report certain types of “news” on a daily basis if no one will talk to you.

    And just what is news? To some people, it might just be basic stuff like when a new title coming out? Who is the creative team? What’s the basic plotline? What’s the format? Things like that.

    Other things, like personnel changes, are more problematic. Private companies are not obligated to provide such information, but in an industry that has “fans,” sometimes such personnel changes have to be reported.

    But is gossip and speculation really news? And where does one draw the line? For, while it may be pertinent to report that Joan Sixpack left Marvel to work at DC, is it pertinent to report that Joan just got divorced, is in rehab, or got a facelift? In the comics business, the latter info is generally off limits, but it certainly isn’t off limits to film industry fans.

    Personally, I think what’s reported by comic book journalists is done fairly well. And I think the reason there is not much “hard-hitting, investigative reporting” in the comic book business is because there isn’t a whole lot happening in the business to warrant such explosive reporting. Face it… personnel changes at some comic book company ain’t exactly Watergate-type stuff.

  12. Lawson says:

    Caleb said: “You do read Tom Spurgeon’s Comicsreporter.com, don’t you?”

    Nope. I’ll give it a try now, though. Thanks for the recommendation.

    That British fellow who runs the Lying in the Gutters column — to an extent, what he does looks like independent and investigative journalism. I’ve not read him a lot — so someone can correct me if he’s wrong most of the time — but he seems to carefully flag the information he’s not sure about, as well as the information he is sure about. On a few occasions, I’ve seen him announce something there that the other comics blogs confirmed days or weeks later, once the companies were prepared to announce it their way.

  13. I often hear the Comics Reporter mentioned as a spot for journalism, and I think Tom is am excellent writer and editor. He does great reviews, and great linkage and his commentary is always worth considering ven when I disgree with it. But is there any real reporting on the site? I know Tom has done this kind of reporting in the past, but I don’t think TCR as it stands now is breaking news on any regular basis.

    I’d happily be proven wrong.

    I think so. More than anyone/any site/any publication I can think of, anyway. I think Rich Johnston may “break” more stories than Spurgeon does (at least Marvel/DC/super related), but give the nature of his breaks–i.e. not sourced–they always have to be taken with a grain of salt. So they tend to be like, “Woah, that’s big!…if it turns out to be true. I guess we’ll know in a few days/weeks/months.”

  14. Yo, i said that stuff up at the top, about the thing being depressing-so what’s the deal with the “pathetic” thing in the link? I took another look at what T Hodler wrote, and what I left in the comments, and there ain’t shit in there calling anybody that. I think you’re reading more hostility into it than can actually be found.

    For the record, it is depressing to listen to bright people worrying about whether or not they can keep DC and Marvel happy enough to maintain access to information. I don’t know how anybody could see it any other way. That shit is d.e.p.r.e.s.s.i.n.g.

    And to that alertnerd guy-you’re goddamn right, nobody should be held to any standard of anything, it’s their blog. But for chrissakes man, wasn’t the thing called a “criticism/journalism” panel? Talking about pr releases and promotional shit is neither.

  15. “For the record, it is depressing to listen to bright people worrying about whether or not they can keep DC and Marvel happy enough to maintain access to information.”

    Maybe a little. Yeah, but some people have to keep other people happy if they’re going to pay the bills, and keep doing what they love to do. Maybe, we should all think about lightening up a bit. It’s art, and we should be enjoying it. Now, how about a hug.

  16. Ken: Well, strictly speaking, I would not call Newsarama a “blog.” I would call it an “online comics magazine,” for starters, which is a whole different animal–it’s not a single editorial voice, although it is edited by a single person. Again, though, it has its own standards, and if they involve a certain level of cooperating with corporations to maintain “access,” obviously, that’s their right.

    I guess in the case of a site like Newsarama, what’s really missing is some level of disclosure; as a “first-person” (okay, often “third-person”) blog, The Beat establishes a more direct relationship between writer and reader, as does a site like The Comics Reporter. Or even io9, which is a group blog. I think this makes it easier to pick up on what exactly you’re dealing with when it comes to the “standards” or goals of a writer.

    I think you’re right, Ken, in that Newsarama operates with the front of an “objective” news source and doesn’t really make any attempts to inform readers about their true goals, which seem to be promotion and entertainment more than reporting. In that sense, I’m with you that there should be some level of communication about where stuff comes from, although that might damage the “credibility” of the site…

    …but then if we can all just agree that none of these places have really any serious level of “credibility” in an objective journalistic standards sense, we wouldn’t need to have this conversation.

    Tucker: I’ll fess up that I didn’t listen to the panel–I should do that, probably, if I’m gonna write on this (then again, maybe I won’t–I’m a blogger damnit and I can be as uninformed as I wanna be!)–but I’d say PR and promotional shit are both pretty vital parts of journalism, whether you’re printing PR in total without comment or using it as a preliminary communication to instigate a story. I’ve done both for “day jobs” and hobby crap alike.

    There’s a place for printing press releases or previews or spoon-fed creator interviews on a website–pretending it’s “news coverage” is probably where things fall apart. Again, though, just fucking TELL ME what you are doing and I won’t even care.

    Kevin Church adds a simple line to some of his posts: “A copy of XXXX was provided for review.” That to me tells me everything I need to know about his personal standards as a blogger, and I mean that as a compliment.

    Anyway, I’m confusing things a bit here, I think. Ultimately Newsarama is a whole different beast to me than a blog. Maybe I’m committing the same sins I’m accusing others of engaging in with my own post, in trying to classify and parse the “standards” issue at all?

    What I’m trying to say is this:

    Journalism is DEAD, people. It’s dead all over the place. I think if we knew what kind of compromises went into creating the average Rolling Stone cover story, for example, we’d all be scared shitless. There is no such thing as “objectivity” anymore, except in tiny enclaves. Mainstream media is a giant money machine.

    But hey, have a great night, everyone!

  17. Why is this even an issue? Everythings fine, theres plenty of great news outlets for comics news, articles, interviews etc. Why does there have to be criticism of everything? Its a hobby industry. Most of the people who run the sites or podcasts or blogs have day jobs.

  18. Jamie says:

    Lawson – Ruch Johnston, the ‘British fellow’ in question, has always distanced himself from being a journalist (and can get quite shirty if you call him one, which is usually good for a laugh. Hi Rich!). Rich is unapologetically a gossip columnist.

  19. Jamie says:

    Lawson – Rich Johnston, the ‘British fellow’ in question, has always distanced himself from being a journalist (and can get quite shirty if you call him one, which is usually good for a laugh. Hi Rich!). Rich is unapologetically a gossip columnist.

  20. Matt asked:

    “Why is this even an issue? Everythings fine, theres plenty of great news outlets for comics news, articles, interviews etc. Why does there have to be criticism of everything? Its a hobby industry. Most of the people who run the sites or podcasts or blogs have day jobs.”

    But don’t you know, Matt, that this humble hobby industry is but a mild-mannered cover for…

    THE SUPER-EVIL ‘CULTURE INDUSTRY?’

    As such, it must relentlessly critiqued and reported on until it is hounded into a slough of despond. It’s the truly moral thing to do.

    That’s why.

  21. I, too, am sort of bewildered by the controversy over this discussion. Maybe if the panel had political or business news reporters on it, some of the things that were said would be a little horrifying. But our area of “journalism” is entertainment journalism. For the most part, we write about things that are not real — stories, characters. We also cover personalities, artists, creators. As someone said, what are we meant to do, go through people’s garbage?

    Promotion occurs just by virtue of the discussion. CBR, Newsarama, etc., no different in philosophy than Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, etc.

    Obviously, there is place for reporting on the business side of comics, like the DiDio stuff, the Platinum stuff, the TOKYOPOP stuff — but has anybody been stopped from talking about those things? Clearly not.

    Frankly, the only thing about this panel discussion that shocked me was Carlton Hargro’s naming of a creator whose book he reviewed writing in to say Hargo’s negative review was right and that he was having problems with that issue. Not the sort of email I would share in public, and possibly unethical.

  22. Regarding Andy Khouri’s comment, “Frankly, the only thing about this panel discussion that shocked me was Carlton Hargro’s naming of a creator whose book he reviewed writing in to say Hargo’s negative review was right and that he was having problems with that issue. Not the sort of email I would share in public, and possibly unethical. ”

    I didn’t stay for the whole panel, but I don’t recall Hargro actually naming anyone. Rather I thought he offered an anecdote to illustrate that real people are on the ‘other end’ of the journalism. Did he actually name anyone?

    I think I asked the first question, and what I was getting at is the immediate nature of blogging versus more reasoned news like the Comics Journal used to do (sorry to hear that they don’t anymore). I think there’s a need for time to reveal what’s important, or true, about a story. I also think there’s plenty of room for ‘quick hits’ or PR puff pieces. Hell, Entertainment Weekly built an empire on them.

  23. Rich Johnston says:

    I did find it funny to hear Matt Brady using my name to say how many things I run are wrong, almost a defining feature – just after he’s was talking about how breathless he was over my breaking the John Nee story – one Newsarama were happy to follow up on, without any additional reporting.

  24. Alan Coil says:

    I think one of the problems with trying to get access to information in the comics business is that many of those reporting have ties or past ties to The Comics Journal. There is a lot of long term resentment toward TCJ, and perhaps against those people.

  25. I understand people covering the industry that they once worked in directly having all kinds of conflicts of interests from that past.

    What I find harder to understand is the apparent pursuit of even more conflicting relationships. It is almost as if pre-existing conflicts of interests are used as an excuse for not even bothering to try to limit the potential for bias. Of course, we’re, also, talking about sites having to admit that they occasionally do favors for publishers in order to insure that they’ll get good stories handed to them later.

Trackbacks

  1. […] It sure seems to me that Heidi MacDonald may be taking it on the chin a bit with regards to the issue of comics “journalism” these days, such as it is. (Although as I’ve already pointed out, and no one seems to have noticed, journalism itself these days is a true rarity outside maybe the hallowed halls of the NYTimes and the WashPost; certainly the idea of entertainment “journalism” is long dead, including comics “journalism,” which one could argue never got itself born to begin with.) […]

  2. […] Finally, just so I’m giving the last word to somebody else other than me, here’s Heidi MacDonald responding to yesterday’s round of snark. The Heroes-Con panel that inspired it is now online, and panel participant Tim Hodler has commentary. […]

Speak Your Mind

*