ELAYNE RIGGS: Polly wanna press release!
When I was first offered the position as ComicMix‘s news editor, Mike Gold outlined his vision for how I was to treat press releases. Rather than parroting verbatim everything I read or was sent, I should first determine the release’s newsworthiness, then I should rewrite everything that I felt merited ComicMix‘s attention in my own words wherever possible.
I could not have been more delighted.
I think you readers probably sense how rare this is, particularly in today’s media-saturated and propaganda-laden world. To be fair, the notion of a supposedly free press on bended knee before the people and stories it covers has been spoken of in the U.S. since at least the Reagan era if not before, but the lapdog evolution seems to have accelerated exponentially under the current administration. So, now more than ever, it behooves journalists to try to shoot down that sorry legacy wherever possible.
But hey, this isn’t world-shaking events, it’s pop culture. What’s the big deal?
The big deal for me has to do with the constant conflation of providing actual news with filling the need for websites to have new content on a daily, even hourly basis for fear of losing eyeballs and facing a corresponding drop in ad revenue. And that’s a by-product of, and to be expected in, our hyper-capitalist society. But that’s presumably where the difference between quality and quantity comes to the fore.
At this point I feel I should step back and assure you that I believe press releases have their place, and I don’t blame other pop culture news sites — many of which are run by personal friends — for repeating them verbatim. That’s one reason I don’t feel the need to; so many others have already done that job. I don’t consider my standards to be necessarily higher, just different. This could be due to my ready admission that I’m an opinion writer rather than a trained journalist. (No, not all bloggers are automatically journalists, although there are any number of writers out there who are good at both.) So perhaps I approach press releases differently than someone with more journalistic experience.
For instance, when I read a press release from a big comics company whose entire point is that such-and-such a book has sold out its print run, the first question I ask myself is "What was the print run? How many actually sold?" After all, this information is readily available after the fact from a number of sources (ICV2 comes to mind), so it shouldn’t be any sort of secret. Yet of all the press releases I’ve read in the two months I’ve been at this ComicMix gig, only one has given an approximate number for the press run which sold out, and that was the item I ran because that was actual news.
Without that vital bit of information, an announcement of a sold-out print run becomes virtually meaningless — is it truly newsworthy if a well-heeled company only prints around 20,000 copies, or a smaller company only 5,000, and demand happened to exceed supply? The companies know it isn’t, so they obscure the actual facts in favor of making themselves look good. Result: There’s no "there" there, and I probably won’t report on it.
Likewise, a press release announcing an upcoming Event, in this age of Event over-saturation, usually isn’t newsworthy either. Comics companies announce upcoming titles at most every convention, and that’s where the initial reports are posted on the usual websites. Unless something changes, I don’t treat "Ground-breaking Event coming soon!" press releases as news either.
Lastly, I recognize a lot of what comes out of comics companies as of interest only to a very specific audience that sometimes doesn’t consist of readers. I may mention that a title will have sales incentives and discounts for retailers, but I probably won’t publish too many intricacies because those retailers will likely have already received the information as well, and most readers who aren’t retailers will doubtless find their eyes glossing over a table of ratios.
So much of what comes into my in-box seems to be PR as opposed to news! As a pop culture enthusiast I certainly have no problem with the idea of fluff, but what I’ve found out is that in trying to reinterpret much of the fluff I find it turning to nothingness, leaving nothing more to write about than something along the lines of the obvious — "Company A thinks its stuff is cool and wants you to buy it!" And that doesn’t do service to anyone.
What do you think? Is wanting to report actual news instead of regurgitating spoon-fed propaganda a sign of naiveté, or canniness? Is it all so much pointless grumbling about a system that’s not going to change and therefore leaves me out in the cold, or is there still some value in distinguishing oneself by separating the wheat from the chaff? (And don’t threshing machines do all that now anyway?) As long as pop culture sites don’t go overboard as paeans to power in a Fox News-like manner, isn’t it okay for them to be E! or CNN and read what they’re given instead of having to interpret everything? Isn’t putting things in your own words just too much work, even if most of your items are short snippets? Aren’t we getting just a little carried away here?
I can’t help it. I think I’ve imprinted on Keith Olbermann. Darn him for being an actual skilled journalist.
But what it really comes down to is, chacon a son gout. To everyone according to their own taste. Some folks like meat, others like cotton candy, and then there’s folks like me who look at press releases skeptically and with not a little snark and who go for sushi every time. Go figure. Bonjour, and bon chance.
Elayne Riggs is news editor for ComicMix, where she writes just about all her news item copy that isn’t in quotes or added by Mike Gold. She also blogs daily at Pen-Elayne on the Web, also pretty much in her own words.
I completely enjoy the PodCasts. I look forward to the comic reviews, and I especially love the movie reviews! The site is really looking good, and much easier to navigate.
A good publicist knows that the purpose of a press release is to inspire the journalist to call back and begin to work on a story, not to be the entire story by itself.
Thanks Lori, we're committed to continuing our site improvement! And I agree, Mellifluous Mike's podcasts are terrific.
Just so, Martha. But who has time to make phone calls nowadays? :)
I agree with Martha, and when I was a newspaper reporter, that's what I did. I have only recently started running press releases verbatim on my blog, and when I do, I start with a graf on what I think is interesting, then run the full release behind a cut. I often get a lot of comments on those posts, so the PR is really just the starting point for an interesting discussion.
I took your comments to heart about the press releases. I'm not keen on just parroting what the companies (especially Marvel and DC) send out to us. It makes it much more interesting when you take what they give you and flesh it out into content that works best for your site.
Ah! Munden's is back. That was a fun wild story. The Hilary Barta art was just stunning.
I've loved Hilary Barta's art for decades. And he was perfect for this story. Because for the longest time, no offense, I was under the mistaken notion that "Hilary" was female! Funny story. Great art. Thanks gang.
Foody looks an awful lot like Homer Simpson. Has Hilary done any Simpsons work?
Foody looks like Homer? I don't see it, Alan. Anyway, The Barta Man has done a LOT of MB stories, quite a number with Foody.
Alan- While I have worked for Bongo on several Simpsons stories (mostly for the Treehouse of Horror), other than the protruding eyes I don't see the homer in Foody. I created Foody with John many years ago, and I seem to recall that I was influenced by Phil Foglio's cartoony characters. But there is a bar patron in the story who resembles a lobotomized Cletus, the slack-jawed yokel. But then, all lobotomized slack-jawed yokels look alike.
Good to see Munden's again!And until I read the comment, I thought that "Hilary" was female, too.
Nope. Hilary is All Man — except when Foody practiced that spell on him. Ooh, that was ugly! The things Hils does for research!
Well, not all man. There was that freak accident with the pencil sharpener…
Glenn, I'm still all man–just a bit more on point, is all.Thanks for the feedback. I've always enjoyed drawing Foody. I think that John and I have done at least three before this one. John's scripts are always funny–and just a bit twisted. And how about those colors by Jason Millet? What a talent!
Looks great, Hil. I'd love to see you do a mini of your own making. Just a nice 4-issue mini of Barta goodness. That's all I ask.
Everyone wants a piece of me. :)
Foody was Munden's MagickerWhose spells could not be tragickerFoody, change back those LadiesOr I'll send you to Hades!You're worse than that Limwrecks Limricker!Hilary, thanks for this Munden's Bar story, the limericks and for many years of laughter and great art. Rock on!
So clever, and then I misspell "Limerwercks" and "Limericker"! Ah well.
There once was an artist named Hilwho drew with a quivering quillHis hand had the shakeswhich led to mistakesHe fixed it by popping a pillAnd here's the "Limerwrecks" Russ is referring to: http://limoday.blogspot.com/
If everyone wants pieces of you, I have shavings from that pencil sharpener.
Ewww! "Barta's Bits!" Will you put them on e-Bay? Will they come with a Certificate of Authenticity?
No, you have to pay for your own DNA testing.
More Barta! Aways a pleasure.
Lots more Barta along the way… I'd love to get that Bill Wray guy back at doing what he does best.At least, what he does best in public.
I miss drawing comics, to bad I took that job at Nick. I am writing a little…
If you ever wanted to draw a Munden's, I'm sure we could find a story that fits your particular sensibilities…
Bill! Bill should very definitely do a story. He spent quite a few years in the 70s drinking in Munden's, so he wouldn't have to do any research. But you'll have to pay him big bucks to get him off his yacht.
A drooling simpleton on every page. That's why we all love a Hilary Barta story. This one had horny, gender-swapping freaks, too. Thank you, John Ostrander. Outstanding!
I just draw what I know, Greg.
Awesome shtuff guys, as usual!I think William Wray's doing just fine…as in "Fine Art". Though I agree…I miss yer comics work too.=s=
Fun story from Ostrander. Awesome art from Hil, as always. Kudos, gents!
It really tastes like a good Wally Wood story. Excellent job! I hope we'll see more from the team Ostrander/Barta soon (let's not forget the brillant coloring job!)
Great story with the usual superb art job by the incredible Hilary Barta. Yow, what an old-school ink line that boy's got! Thanks, H.B., for the tip.More, sir, MORE!!!
By "tip" I trust you are not referring to the aforementioned incident with the pencil sharpener. And I'm working on more Munden's as we speak. Er…type.
ROCK ON! That is some very cool news! Here's hoping the only shakes in your hands are frosty and delicious!
OOOOH man, a Munden's Bar story! Love it, love it, love it! Hilary, you rocked the house with your usual flair this time! And when I say "flair" I'm not talking about your inking tools, baby! Nice work. More, please. Much more…
I feel priviledged to be invited to the dance(being sent a link). Hilary, thanks for even having my email, let alone sending the link to this great story along. I always smile when looking at your art. Thanks for sharing…
Mark! So when are we getting a story out of you? (Or rather, another one– I remember the one you did back in the First days…)
Haven't seen your stuff in a long time (I've been out of it for a while), but it looks like you haven't been slackin' off. Prime, grade-A comics stuff!
Wow! Paul Renaud complimenting my colors! Okay– my day was just made!Jason
Hey Glenn- Whats the dilly with Munden's stories? Is it a paying gig? Shits 'n giggles? Im sure at some point I would like to visit the Bar again.
Of course it's a paying gig. You think we attract this kind of talent for free?Okay, we do attract this kind of talent for free. But we figure it's only polite. I'll email you privately.
You have my email, Im guessing?
Yep. And a copy of your DNA structure from when you touched your keyboard to read the site. We're very thorough. (Did you know you're an 11% genetic match to Darwyn Cooke? Must have a common ancestor somewhere…)
We're all originally descended from Herriman, McCay and Segar. It's cool that this is turning into a Munden's recruitment board. While were at it, Brian Churilla, Shane White, Paul Renaud and Marc Hansen would all draw nifty Munden's stories, too.At Munden's, a divey space bar, more guys drank than women by far So Foody, on bender threw genders in blender Now psyches of all bear a scar