Disclaimer: None of what I post here is in any way the views of Blog@, Newsarama, or Imaginova Networks or anyone associated with them. These are my own opinions, and I speak only for myself. And they’re right.
There has been a bit of an uproar on Twitter in the last 24 hours, primarily instigated by three big names at Marvel Comics complaining about tweets, posts on the microblogging social network, being reposted on websites such as this one, CBR, and many others. The contention by Tom Brevoort, Brian Michael Bendis, and Joe Quesada is that this shouldn’t be done without permission or even payment to the person who made the original 140 character or less post.
…them as articles without any permission or payment to CB. Yeah, I’m looking at you, Newsarama Blog.
This brings to light something that bugged me for the four years that I covered comic books, and one of the big reasons that my focus is on video games nowadays. Press coverage of comics is so reliant on being buddy buddy with the various companies that are being covered, the majority of comic book press has become nothing but a glorified PR stream. But let’s get to the point of contention first: Twitter.
The way Quesada addressed things (you can click on his name here to get to his Twitter stream and read it for yourself; virtually no difference from me posting it directly here) was certainly with less vitriol and more respect for the people he was addressing, and I appreciate that. Bendis decided to call the very act of collecting individual tweets and posting them with commentary lazy, showing he obviously has never tried to collect a series of tweets! The problem is this: Twitter is an open forum. It’s a blog, at its heart; a blog that the three people in question (and the fourth, referenced by Brevoort, was CB Cebulski, who as far as we can tell has no problem with it at all) are all “unprotected” updaters on, meaning anyone using Twitter or NOT using Twitter can read their updates. Pulling quotes and content from Twitter is thus exactly the same as pulling content from other websites, blogs, etc. It is a process frequently known as linkblogging, and as long as a link to the original source is there, that’s fine. Some commentary should be provided along with the news, absolutely, or it does come off as a bit lazy; I can concede that point and even support it. Statements like these, however, are going to get me fired up:
@BRIANMBENDIS Yes, and the sense of entitlement. If you’re getting paid to do this, then you have to know it’s wrong.
Wow. OK, first thing’s first: the issue of payment. As I offered to Joe Quesada, I’d be more than willing to count up the number of words reposted from Twitter, divide those into the number of words posted here monthly, and send Tom or anyone else the tenth of a penny (if that) that we owe them. The thought seems to be that we’re all swimming in gold coins like Scrooge McDuck from doing some blogging, and that’s utterly ridiculous. Second, there’s not some vast conspiracy to steal all of the comic industry’s thoughts and dreams from their brain grapes. The two posts that started all this nonsense were ostensibly the reposting of Joe Quesada’s cover to Amazing Spider-Man #600 on the front page of Newsarama and CBR, and the reposting of C.B. Cebulski’s breaking-into-comics tips here at this blog amongst many others. So, an image that our readership would want to see hits a public forum; it’s now out there on the internet. The image is then reposted by reporters, including a link to the original source, and more information about the product and a link to the interview about a similar topic being run on the same site. As reporters, that’s not just the right thing to do, it’s actually the basis of the job. REPORTING on NEWS.
C.B.’s tips are a slightly different topic, to be sure, but similar enough to cover at the same time. Here we have someone very kindly trying to get information to the maximum number of people using his vast experience on the topic. He even answers a LOT of fans’ questions during the process; it’s a very cool resource for fans and aspiring creators, and thus something to report on. The aggregation of his posts was not something done with villainous intentions, as is implied by the statement, “you have to know it’s wrong.” Surprisingly enough, not everyone is on Twitter. Also, 3413 (C.B.’s current follower count) does not quite cover Newsarama’s readership, or we wouldn’t quite be a functioning website. The thought process behind aggregation was to do no more than open up this resource to a greater readership.
Now, part two of that infuriating tweet, the sense of entitlement. This part just baffles me, really. That’s the exact problem with how press is “allowed” to cover comics; there is this sense of entitlement by the folks being covered that often precludes stories from being run, under threat of not being allowed access in the future. It’s like no other industry in the level of relationship, and that of course can be a good and a bad thing. It’s certainly easier to get an interview with a creator of comics than an interview with a Senator, movie director, or foreign dictator. Let me give you an example of the bad; at Wizard World Chicago a few years back, I was chatting with a major artist who I won’t name so I don’t get him in trouble. Being one of my all time favorite artists, it was a thrill for me; it still is a thrill talking to my favorite creators, though the dynamic has changed over the years. I digress; I was talking to Artist X and asked him, press badge in full view, if his next project was on the books yet. He said, off-the-cuff, something like “Yeah, I’m doing next summer’s big event book.” The project had been rumored, and he referenced it by name, and did in fact draw it a year later. When I passed this news on to a couple of editors, they said they’d talk to Marvel about trying to get the official announcement a few months down the line. Now, in my journalism coursework, I learned that you certainly let them know you’re running the story and ask for an official comment, then run the story with or without the comment. I’ve been told time and time again, though, that’s simply not the way things run in the comics world, and I just don’t understand that sense of entitlement.
For the record, I’ve had entire blogs and even full feature articles reposted on other websites without prior permission. The only time I’ve had a problem with it is when no credit was given. As long as there is credit and a linkback, it’s a complete non-issue in my eyes.
A cursory notification could be given to the poster of the original tweet when people want to run their statements as stories. However, permission just isn’t the right word. If we were constantly waiting on permission from Twitter posts, Variety, HollywoodReporter, IGN, MTV, Marvel, DC, IDW, etc. to use content they’ve put up on the internet, we’d have a very boring and non-informative blog. The linkback is the notification in this form of media. We’re telling the public and the originator of the content where we got it from and that we’ve repurposed it to make it easier to access for our readership. Basically, if you don’t want information out in the ether, don’t put it out in the ether. It’s that simple.
At any rate, with David’s collection of C.B.’s tweets, the one that got Mr. Brevoort all up in arms, David was given permission about a week ago, before ever running anything (in fact, it was a suggestion by C.B. that made him think to do it), and then linked to the piece directly “@” C.B. (it was on Twitter) and got a thank you. Thus, the original contention against the post actually doesn’t make sense. If there was a genuine issue that he or anyone else wanted addressed, why not ask privately? It would be easy enough to contact any of us directly and address the issue without making it a public debacle first. That should point out how silly this really is.
What this all comes down to is a way of thinking about reporting. The central thesis of Journalism is if you get news, and establish that it is news, you should report it. Conversely, if you’re a public figure, and you’re putting information out in an open, public forum, you should always assume that people can and will talk about it. Without some kind of disclaimer on your twitter site, or protected updates (which would be a bit counter-intuitive in it being a publicity machine), any claim of foul play just makes the complainer look silly. That’s my opinion, and it’s right.