Friday, November 04, 2011

Victor Von Dammit!

I think someone pulled a Brevoort here.

To the right, you see a story, as it ran on before Rich Johnston was swamped with complaints about questionable reporting on it (Rich committed the error of putting too much faith in his original sources, it seems).

The story he was fed? The real story behind cancellation of the Victor Von Doom mini wasn't lack of orders, a shift in Marvel strategy or because the original editor (the witty & well-liked Alejandro Arbona) was shit-canned, but that the artist (Becky Cloonan) had personal emergencies that led her to not have finished ANY of the artwork for the mini. Marvel claimed to not have received a single, solitary page.

Sources came to Rich almost immediately upon publication of the article, telling him Marvel's story was patently false and that they had seen the completed pages for the entire first issue.

Which brings me to "The Brevoort"...

Most folks probably don't remember this to the point of obsession like I do, but when Civil War delays led to delaying a bunch of titles that tied into it, Tom Brevoort tried to cover for the fact that Marvel only owned up to it the afternoon before it was supposed to be on shelves because, FOR THE SAKE OF RETAILERS, they needed to hold off on announcing it until they had a plan in place for "fixing" it. I'm in good company thinking that the whole move screwed over retailers, seeing as how that was Tom Spurgeon's opinion at the time. Going toe to toe with Brevoort over how asinine his claim was wound up being the first time I recall Marvel complaining to Newsarama about me (expecting an unpaid reviewer to have his opinion kept in check by the site).

Fast forward to today, with the product being much lower profile, but the overall issue of cancelled Marvel product being a little more embarrassing and the delay in announcing it being, once again, unprofessional. So they leak that it is because a freelancer had personal life get in the way of their professional commitments and, though they still love her and no one is mad at her, it caused the series to currently be cancelled...even if that might not be the real explanation.

While everyone is mad at Rich Johnston for having reported this, the real focus of the ire should be his source. Really...even if true...they wanted so badly to take the heat off of Marvel's decision to cancel by taking a swing at the professionalism of a freelancer that, by their own explanation, seemed to be going through some trying times?

Johnston's reporting here speaks to the larger problem with the state of comics journalism. Due to so few sites being willing to potentially frustrate their meal ticket, the publishers, there aren't many outlets for news stories that might cast anyone in a negative light. Yet a significant number of the audience eats up those stories, making the race to be the one who puts out the few bits of real news that ever trickle out a cutthroat one.

So, Johnston trusts his source. His source places the blame as politely as possible on a freelancer. He makes at least a token effort to reach out to the freelancer, but doesn't hear back soon enough for his comfort. Why the discomfort? It's Friday afternoon and he's losing his most valued readership time. Weekends are generally more dead than weekdays on comic book sites. If he doesn't get this up before the end of the business day, he will have to debate saving it for Monday.

Meanwhile, every moment he holds on to it, there's a chance the story will leak out to someone else who will run it without further confirmation without having nearly the same relationship with the source that he might have. And then what happens next time? Will the source bypass Johnston for the person willing to run the story immediately on their word next time? Maybe he crassly does the math that the source who gave him this story will be in a better position to give him future stories than the freelancer he'd be respecting by waiting for their response or eating the story altogether.

But here we stand: at last check, there were a lot of people who screamed "FUCK RICH JOHNSTON", but I didn't notice anyone adding "...AND FUCK WHOEVER GAVE HIM THIS 'STORY', TOO!"


  1. "It's Friday afternoon & he's losing his most valued readership time."

    Sorry, but that's a bullshit excuse. Losing hits should not take priority over fact-checking, ever, especially when it comes to slandering someone's career. He could easily have run the article about the book being cancelled, do his usual bit of "& perhaps under circumstances that I might know more about than you" tease, & then come back Monday (or during the weekend, wouldn't be the first time) once he'd verified the story.

    Losing hits doesn't justify lazy journalism.

  2. I think you confuse my trying to explain the circumstances that helped lead to a bad decision hastily made as suggesting any of it is a good excuse.

    If I didn't make it clear, I would tend to believe that one of the factors that contributed to his running with what the one source said was that the "it was her fault, as we received no pages" was combined with "but gosh golly gee, we sure hope that we can have her and Spencer do this when they have time, as that combo is the whole reason we wanted to do this book!" It combined saying she was the reason why it was cancelled, but they still love her and her work, which leads to a "fair and balanced" element that makes it easier to swallow.

    I still assert that, if you stop being excited that you're about to post an article that the blogosphere will be talking about and linking to for a week, you should be able to see that the only purpose of the story is to give Marvel cover for the cancellation at the possible expense of a well-liked freelancer.

  3. You're right to criticize the source as well, but I definitely would not skip out blaming the guy working the sources. This isn't the first time Rich's rumor posting hasn't worked out so well and probably won't be the last. There is nothing wrong with having a site out there in given media type be known as the 'rumor site', but I don't think he'll ever push very far past that.

  4. I can agree with that, Jeremy. I do think that Rich hides behind the whole "I'm just a rumor-mongerer" too often. For all his claims of not being a journalist, he's contributed some solid journalism, proving that he knows how to do it, but chooses to pretend he has no knowledge or intention of living up to it when it suits.

  5. When it suits = All the time

    And I run all sorts of stuff through the weekend, I don't save stories for Mondays.

  6. Rich, when people laud your journalistic work in the Perlmutter case, you don't throw around the whole "I'm not a journalist" nearly as frequently.

    Don't be disingenuous on that score...or in trying to act like getting a big story out when it'll have more traffic to notice it never comes into your thinking. When you have the most eyes available factors into decisions.

  7. I wish Becky would put up a a page or two to shut everyone up. (unless that contractually forbidden).

  8. Bottle, that'd be countering clear unprofessionalism with the possibility of something unprofessional. Which just underscores the point of how bad this situation is for a freelancer. They can try to pin the blame on her and then she has to worry about how she looks if she tries to defend herself (possibly trading one black mark (perceived flakiness) for another (talking about editorial)).


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