Chris Butcher had a post on the state of comics journalism a few days ago that everyone should read. In it he basically echoed what I was saying a few weeks ago: the vast majority of the comics press wouldn’t be able to cover an actual comics news story if it hit them over the head with a grandfather clock, ran them over a with a car, put hot sauce in their sandals and then bit them in the ass. The reason? They are more interested in partying with the stars. As I’ve always said, I’m just as guilty of this as anyone, but on the long-gone occasions when I did report a story that people didn’t like, I was swiftly dealt with — banned from the offices of one company, stricken from the comp list of another. When that’s the level of retribution you can expect, no wonder everyone wants to play handball, but hardball.

Dick Hyacinth covers this in a long response to Butcher’s post:

As much as I like Blogorama and similar news accretion and commentary sites (ie, Journalista, The Beat, and The Comic Reporter), there’s not a whole lot of investigative journalism happening online. Butcher mentions Newsarama’s coverage of the Superboy reversion rights story as an example of real journalism, and he’s probably right. But I still think there’s a fanboy element at work there–will DC get to use Superboy in the future, or will Jerry Siegel’s greedy relatives deprive us of these stories? Not that Newsarama is voicing this opinion, but its readers surely are. Actually, that link is for a comment left on a Blogorama post by Tom Bondurant. When I tried a Google search for copyright + superboy on the newsarama.com domain, most of the recent stories appeared on Blogorama. Maybe Google isn’t finding the Superboy stories from Newsarama’s main site, but I seem to recall a link to the Bondurant story serving in lieu of a separate parent site story on the most recent developments in the case. In other words, I think [email protected] is doing the heavy lifting on the Superboy copyright story. Bondurant’s post was a legitimate piece of journalism, but is anyone else doing this kind of reporting? Is anyone doing it on a regular basis?

I’m surprised more people don’t pine away for Michael Dean, the Comics Journal’s former news editor. Since he took over as the managing editor, the Journal has NO news editor. While I’m sure everyone is relieved that they no longer hear “Michael Dean is on the line!” they must also secretly miss having a giggle for when his dogged reporting was turned onto the competition. I actually asked Gary Groth if the Journal would be hiring a new news editor back in May at Book Expo, and he said that maybe if people stopped suing them, they would have some money to hire someone.

When is the last time someone in the comics press wrote a story with as many hard numbers as the IDW profile I just linked to? It’s just a fairly typical business story — nothing revolutionary, and yet the writer talks to experts, gets facts and figures and in general does something very few comics journos have the time and resources to do.

Which brings us back to Newsarama’s purchase by Imaginova, the dot.com for the “intellectually curious.” According to various tech news sites, Imaginova had a $15 million war chest for acquisitions, so webheads can do their own math on guessing how much Matt and Mike cashed out for.

Red Herring has a few more insights:

New York City-based Imaginova declined to disclose the financial terms of the deal announced Monday, but the company said it was part of a strategic expansion of its advertising-supported web sites such as LiveScience, Space.com, and Aviation.com.

Dan Stone, who joined the company as president and chief executive in June 2002, said the company is pursuing its audience of highly educated, tech-savvy 25- to 54-year-olds into another area of interest.

“Part of this was driven by our advertisers in Hollywood,” he said, noting that ad buyers, like movie studios and publishers of computer games, prefer a larger audience to create a more efficient campaign.

Whatever the thinking, it’s hard not to imagine Newsarama getting many upgrades, including RSS feeds, better SEO and so on, that will make it even more of a powerhouse site.

Meanwhile, the comics blogosphere had a few reactions. Johanna and her readers  had a bit of snark. Chris Butcher was a bit apathetic. In fact it was this fellow, seemingly a comics book enthusiast who blogs, who has the most cranky reaction:

As you see, I’m not a fan of Newsarama. I think that it is because there is too much information on the site. I get a headache from the flashing advertising all over the page. And…I simply get lost in the page. Not much there–but there is. Just nothing interesting. I’m a little annoyed that it is owned by some big digital media corporation, Imaginova–whatever happened to the little guys…have they all sold out? I just don’t like it–it looks like too much work.

These days it’s just too much work for everyone, I guess.

1 COMMENT

  1. I think the best possible comics reporter would be someone assigned the beat and who is not a fanboy/girl that has illusions of someday working in the business.

    It would just be their job and nothing more.

  2. I’m all for a corporate-level parent company adding a dose of CNN-esque style & reporting for the comic industry. Fact is, online…. the perception is that everyone is, “the little guy”. I’d rather have a range of coverage, and if someone will dig into an actual story, and not just a press release, driven the onus of a real news site (for real, or imagined) then we’re all the better for it.

  3. These days, without a covert, inside source, it has to be extremely difficult to do any kind of investigative reporting in the comics biz. Everyone screens their calls through assistants, voice mail, or caller ID, so getting someone to even call you back regarding a controversial story — let alone speaking on the record — has to be almost impossible these days.

    And now that I think about it, it’s actually kind of ironic that an industry which spends an inordinate amount of time portraying the government, DoD, or big business as secretive and close-mouthed is so, well, secretive and close-mouthed.

  4. I stopped looking at the comics news sites (altho still read some blogs, clearly) out of a flagging interest in the sort of material they mainly cover, and because it seemed to me it was just endless promotion of upcoming comic books. Upcoming comic books do qualify as news I’m sure, and once you’ve got the news website, well, you have to report on something each weekday, but too often I felt like I was just seeing a bunch of hype in news article form. Marvel has shocking plans for Dazzler and the Internet is going to need a Heimlich after it sees this! Etc. Of course on a related note, I sometimes try to remember the days when checking out the spinner rack could result in surprises, vs. basically knowing the plot of each comic 3 months in advance.

  5. You hit the nail on the head with the retribution for doing hard news, but that’s if you really give a crap about that sort of access. There are plenty of roads to take to get to a story and not all of them involve the official outlets. In fact, if everyone didn’t kowtow to the companies or creators and actually asked hard questions, then comics journalism might be a worthy pursuit. However, it is clear that the general audience doesn’t care. Seriously, it’s also clear that most of the comic journalism sites don’t care. And why should they when even veteran comics journalists can be caught saying “hey, man… it’s only comics” and dismissing hard news items so as to either not lose that precious access or to not embarass the subject of the piece.

    It’s fascinating that the best comics journalist runs a rumour column and refuses to call himself a journalist. The field needs more Rich Johnstons and less Mike Sangiacomos.

  6. I’ve done very, very little ‘hard journalism’ but when I’ve tried I find very few people willing to go on the record to say anything. It appears a lot of people want hard journalism, until *they* are part of the story. Then it’s “I don’t want no trouble!”

    Then you get the reader response, a lot of whom just want to read their batman comics in peace and not be bothered by this stuff. If you’re not getting paid to do this, then there doesn’t seem to be any point in doing it. Calling people, getting your facts straight, double checking it all and writing it takes a lot of time and some money. It’s no surprise nobody is doing it for free.

    Considering how Marvel and DC treat organizations that does that type of stuff, it’s no surprise that organizations that depend on their advertising money (and benefit from their playing along and getting news stories in advance of their competition) don’t bother doing it either.

    I really hope Gary can hire somebody else to do this stuff again soon.

  7. What exactly do people want from their comics news? Sex scandals? Corruption? Is there really a need for ‘hard’ journalism in such a small industry?

    (And fom my perspective there isn’t a great deal of good journalism anywhere these days)

  8. “I’m all for a corporate-level parent company adding a dose of CNN-esque style & reporting for the comic industry. ”

    Is that what happened here? I was under the impression Imaginova purchased Newsarama not to turn it into the CNN of the comic book “genre,” but instead to make money from advertisements and from all the people who use the message boards.

    Besides, is the “comic industry” really big enough to warrant the kind of reporting we are talking about? There are going to be some stories that are of interest to the relatively small group of people who read comic books, but the only stories that will interest a larger group will be 1) comic book movies and 2) lawsuits. Oh, and finding out who wants to be a superhero.

  9. “because it seemed to me it was just endless promotion of upcoming comic books.”

    Believe it or not, that’s predominantly what people want to read. At least at my site. Not that they absolutely would object to a CNN style news story, but they mainly want to find out what comics have arrived and will arrive in stores.

  10. Charles,
    It’s not an issue of ignoring promotion stories. Of course promotion stories should be done; I don’t think anyone suggested otherwise. It’s when you do any story that goes outside that safe area that you come up against the 800 pound gorilla.

    And you are right; most people don’t care unless the lawsuit keeps them from having a new issue of Superboy.

    I mean, who cares about the racism issues or sexism issues or homophobia issues? Clearly not the creators who are having them since they refuse to go on the record for fear of never working in the industry again, so we should probably just let it go and ignore it.

    Wow! I just thought of a fantastic new slogan for comics journalism/comics bloggers. “If we ignored it, it didn’t happen!”

    That or something about apple carts.

  11. I’m not suggesting such issues be ignored. I’m not suggesting investigation or reporting that goes beyond promoting the sale of comics should not happen. I’m simply suggesting there’s not much of said investigation going on because, within the limited audience we have, there’s an even more limited audience demanding or wanting that kind of investigation.

    Having said that, I am already pursuing the possibilities of news/investigative reporting on my site, though as someone pointed out, that doesn’t happen for free.

  12. Rich Johnson (Lying in the Gutters) tried in-depth and researched pieces but took so much crap for it he switched back to rumors (a step down).

    I can’t see why any one is complaining about the lack of substance since this is exactly what they want. Congrats, everyone.

  13. ….and that’s a real bummer, neeb, because I enjoyed those “in-depth” columns about 10 times as much as anything else. Any time Johnston does dig his claws into a story (usually involving Pat Lee or someone else not paying their employees), it’s highly enjoyable, but knowing who the new Spider-Man artist is 3 days earlier in LitG than I would have elsewhere isn’t quite the same.

    And I certainly hear you, Jamie C., I wish I had the resources to do this kind of reporting on the site whose comics coverage I run (www.playbackstl.com, check it out!), but when you already don’t get paid for the 20-30 hours of work a week you put into it, eating away more of your free time to dig up the necessary dirt is hard to justify.

  14. As a Marvel employee this discussion is fascinating to me. It seems that the same qualities that make someone a true and objective comics journalist – willingness to ask tough questions, be critical, and be disliked – are the very qualities that could shut you out from the industry itself.

    In my view, the unwillingness to do that isn’t always necessarily butt-kissing, it’s a form of self-preservation.

    So it’s no wonder that “comics journalism” in the truest sense comes not from industry-news sites, but from mainstream news outlets like the NY Times, which doesn’t assume industry participation among its writers or readers – or from rumor sites, which sacrifice surface credibility in exchange for genuine objectivity.

  15. Nicole,
    You know what’s funny? Never in all my times asking a question of Joe Quesada has he ever felt the need to dodge a question. He may state clearly that he can’t talk about a particular topic as an officer of the company or give a perfectly reasonable response, but he answered every question I asked of him back to my days at Slush Factory when he first took over as EiC of Marvel. It’s not that the questions won’t be answered, it’s that no one bothers to ask them. It really is analagous to political reporting and desired access and that’s pretty sad.

  16. Great thought piece, Heidi. If I didn’t have a day job I’d probably try to develop my investigative instincts a bit more, but I don’t think the comics press is entirely at fault here. As you say, it’s “too much work” for readers as well. I think it’s a combination of just wanting to read funnybooks and gossip about lighter stuff (I admit my eyes glaze over whenever the Beat comes out with the monthly sales figures, as necessary as something like that is to the industry), and many fans’ propensity to treat fictional characters as more important than real people.

  17. Elayne alluded to this with her “day job” comment, but I think the reason there are probably no hard core, investigative journalists covering the comics biz is because the industry can’t really financially sustain any. Coverage seems to be done by folks wearing multiple hats with little or no staff who, for the bulk of their material, generally only have time to summarize press releases, solicit ready-made stringer stories and do Google searches. They don’t have the luxury of spending long periods of time doing research and in-depth interviews for a single story.

    Investigative reporting takes considerable amounts of time, and that’s something most of the folks covering the comics biz just don’t have. So who’s going to do the in-depth reporting? More to the point, who’s going to pay a qualified journalist to come in and do investigative reporting for the comics industry?

    The obvious answer is no one.

    Frankly, I think Tom Spurgeon, Heidi, Dirk Deppey, Mark Evanier, TCJ, CBG and a few other sources do a pretty good job at giving me the pulse of what’s happening in the industry. And while there’s always room for the hard-hitting, in-depth stuff, I wouldn’t exactly say that there is a huge journalistic void in the comics industry that needs to be filled.

  18. Rich Johnson (Lying in the Gutters) tried in-depth and researched pieces but took so much crap for it he switched back to rumors (a step down).

    Part of that had to do with the fact that his attempts at “real journalism” actually contained more errors-in-fact than his usual rumor columns did, which is why I respect his rumor columns more, because they don’t claim to be something they’re not, whereas his “real journalism” columns claimed to be fact-checked, which was pretty much proven to be untrue.

    It’s kind of like FOX News – if they were honest enough to admit that they’re basically the right-wing American equivalent of Al Jazeera, I’d have a lot less problems with them, but unlike Rich Johnson’s current columns, they actually try to present themselves as “fair and balanced.”

  19. I want to back up what Ed Mathews said about Joe Quesada. Once upon a time Marvel did phone conferences with the press, it was typically Wednesday afternoons. I think it was set up by Bill Jemas as I was invited after I did an e-mail interview with him (in which he dodged a lot of my questions calling them “too chat roomy.”) A lot of it was promoting what was coming out but they allowed open questions, but with the limit of 1 question per person (later per organization) and 1 follow up.

    Rich, I believe, was kicked out for asking difficult questions within the first couple of weeks. But I was able to ask some and I know Rick Veitch asked some as well. Joe was a stand up guy in answering them.

  20. I think, like the comics themselves, the news gets out there, and right now, everything is fine. If it’s not on the net, there are the comic book magazines one can read. Magazines seem to have expose’s(sp) on comic artists all the time now.

    Calm down, everything is fine. Thanks for your efforts too Heidi! ;)

  21. I’m still not sure what it is people think we’re missing out on because of a lack of ‘real’ journalism about comics.

    I’ve never read the Comics Journal so I have to ask what it is they (used to) do that no one else apparently manages. Is it simply the quality of their writing or did they bust some heads and take some names back in the day?

  22. how many comics news sites are there, anyway?

    and I do appreciate and admire the efforts behind the sites, but visiting a couple blogs seems to work fine for me for daily (or less) comic book world news (“news”?)

    if the content on the news sites is giving their readers what they want then great

  23. One of the entire points of my “change” was to show how actual little difference there was… it’s all a matter of presentation. And I didn’t take any crap, I let readers vote on the way they preferred. I’ve always been happy to seek a mandate for the way I report.

    The main difference between LITG and other comics reportage is that I routinely break stories without the co-operation of the publishers and creators involved. I’m the equivalent of Private Eye, Popbitch, Guido Fawkes and the diary column of every major newspaper.

  24. “I’m surprised more people don’t pine away for Michael Dean, the Comics Journal’s former news editor. Since he took over as the managing editor, the Journal has NO news editor.”

    Dean was a hack. Him getting kicked upstairs is the best thing that could have happened, short of him being kicked to the curb. He ran the false story painting Julie Schwartz as being practically a rapist – a story that was run both after Schwartz catagorically denied it and after Schwartz died. Dean will never be forgiven for that, or ever considered legit.

    Meanwhile, the next news editor of The Comics Journal should clearly be none other than the great Heidi “Ace” MacDonald.