In this installment, Pierce talks about the definition of “comics journalism” and considers our hunger to know everything first and ask questions later. This is the New Scum.
Merriam-Webster defines journalism as “the collection and editing of news for presentation through the media.” That makes it sounds like ust about any blog or news sites could be considered journalism The question really is: “what is news?” That’s a much trickier definition.
News is information collected and presented in a timely manner on a subject that is newsworthy. Newsworthiness is the key here. In regards to comic books, the news that Wolverine will be starting his own school isn’t newsworthy at all. The first openly gay character in Archie history, Kevin Keller, getting his own comic book is newsworthy. The difference has to do with the larger implications of the story. By and large, most entertainment reporting cannot be considered journalism.
So what is comics journalism then?
Comics journalism is mostly a joke. I don’t think anyone can really call themselves a journalist if all they cover is comics-related news. There is no real reporting involved. The information is handed out by companies like DC and Marvel when they decide to hand it out. Essentially, comic book news sites just regurgitate whatever is in the press release or live blog, add a couple of lines of snarky observation and leave it at that. (Myself included, though I wouldn’t call it journalism even if I do call it news.) Comics journalism, ladies and gentlemen.
Of course, there is another sect of comics journalism that is concerned with breaking announcements before they come out. Revealing creative teams, new titles, line-up changes etc. I understand the reasoning behind this. Some are of the “We don’t want those big comic book companies pulling the wool over our eyes!” camp. Some just like to know. Some just want to be angry about stuff that isn’t happening for months or even at all. Ultimately, I have one question: what’s the point?
Realistically, there is none. The truth of the matter is that the creators that we columnists and bloggers praise and deride each week on our respective (or not so) web sites, forums and Twitter feeds are doing their jobs just like any of us. Announcements are made when they are made for a reason. Anyone who doesn’t think that leaked announcements affect sales is kidding themselves. Every day we see people make assumptions based on what they may or may not have heard at a convention or read on a web site. What’s worse is that when irresponsible news sources report rumors or conjecture as fact (or many times even if they don’t), many readers take that information and form completely unfounded opinions that in the worst instance get good books canceled and in other, still less than desirable instances hurt companies and creators. Does Scott Snyder go to your job, tell you how to go about it on the Internet and then take money out of yours and your company’s pocket when he decides that he may or may not like the kind of job that you may or may not do? Didn’t think so.
On the other hand, what about reporting an announcement that holds no bearing on the livelihoods of other human beings? I’m all for it. We did it here on Kabooooom when we broke the news that Victor Von Doom had been canceled. In that instance, we had no doubt that our sources were correct, there was no announcement from Marvel or any other comics news site and so we published it. That was a case where we reported the facts and we then got official word from the creators about it. No harm, no foul. There ended up being an official statement from Marvel about it and that was enough. But why didn’t we dig deeper and find out why it got canceled? Because it doesn’t matter. Tom Brevoort saying that it probably wouldn’t have sold well and they decided to cut it was enough. And trying to dig into the story behind it led to one site looking like clowns after incorrectly calling a creator’s professionalism into question. Where’s the merit in it? We don’t need to know why every TV show gets canceled. Why care why a comic book does?
Where does that leave big sites like CBR and Newsarama? News is even in one of their names! Isn’t news journalism?!
Those sites are excellent at reporting the news around the comics industry and they don’t involve themselves in the kind of rumor mongering that runs rampant on most blog sites. They’ve forged good relationships with comics companies and it shows in the depth of their coverage and strength of their features. Their content is also elevated by all-star columnists who take their jobs seriously and consistently deliver intelligent, fun content like Alan Kistler’s Agent of S.T.Y.L.E. or Timothy Callahan’s When Words Collide.
Is this kind of content journalism though? In some cases, you could make an argument for it. Analysis of sales trends seems an awful lot like journalism. But no economists are being interviewed. No outside sources are being brought in to analyze the information presented. I’m hard pressed to call it journalism.
Similarly, creator interviews (presented usually in Q and A format) I don’t really consider journalism either. There are no really important exchanges. We are being sold a writer or artist’s personality. In the hopes that if we think that Creator X is cool, we’ll buy that person’s book. But Creator X isn’t giving us any information that we wouldn’t otherwise get from the press release.
That being said, the bigger sites are good at what they do which is repackaging and repurposing the mass of information they get in an entertaining way for fans. Bravo, big boys.
But what about comic criticism?
That’s a question for part two.