Comics Journalism Is Social Media

By | Friday, May 17, 2024 Leave a Comment
If Marshall McCluhan is right and the medium is the message, what is the message of social media?That is in reference to McCluhan's 1964 book Understanding Media in which the author contended that the medium in which a message is delivered is as powerful and impactful as the message itself. "The medium is the message." So what does the existence/use of Bluesky (or Mastodon or X or whatever) say about us, both as creators and recipients of content via that outlet?

Henry Jenkins responded to this idea years ago with an extended answer on his blog, but the short answer is: "Here it is. Here I am."

What he was getting to is that social media like Facebook and blogs are the drivers of capturing people's attention in the 21st century. Traditional advertising essentially doesn't work because there's simply too much competing for our time and attention. It's become white noise. We have, as consumers, learned to filter out much of what does not interest us, so we're not apt to pay attention to, for example, traditional car commercials unless we have an immediate interest in car commercials -- if we are actively ourselves in the market for a new car and need to get up to speed quickly on what's currently available. This means anyone trying to market a product or service needs to quickly and fairly efficiently target people who are already pre-disposed to hearing what they have to say.

The question about "gossip comics journalism" leads quickly to the state of comics journalism in general, and I've seen a repeatedly complaints over the years that were generally disappointed with how the "main" comic news outlets were little more outlets for publishers press releases....
Comics Gossip Sites are as close as the industry gets to journalism.

Since there is no REAL journalism in comics, gossip columns are all we really have.

i'm sure has been noted already but comics (& every medium) needs better journalists.

depends what you term gossip. all other comics news sites are intermediaries for soft interviews & press releases

It's essentially the same debate that's being held about journalism at large. Although the AI-generated content angle has entered that broad discussion but has yet to permeate into comics journalism, as far as I'm aware.

Part of the reason I, and many others, write these kinds of things is simply to keep my name and identity in your consciousness on an ongoing basis. Years ago, while I was still running my Fantastic Four fan site, I made a point of making regular, weekly updates so that there was always something there for people to check in on. The same holds true for my daily blogging today. Part of it is an exercise in writing regularly as a form of practice, but part of it is to keep my name out there. I make a point of trying to write posts in advance of every day that I know I won't be at a computer and able to blog, precisely so that the stream of information coming from this location is continual. (I'm not always successful, admittedly, but I do try.) I'm deliberately trying to build cultural capital within the comics community by standing up every day to say, "Here I am."

Of course, just saying "Here I am" would get repetitive quickly and people would pay it little heed. It would be more white noise to ignore. But if I said something different each day, something interesting, THAT might provide enough incentive for people to return. Think about it in terms of the funny pages from the newspaper...

People came back to read Calvin & Hobbes each and every day because they enjoyed it. Some jokes were funnier than others, some strips were drawn better than others, but there was a more than good chance that creator Bill Watterson did something entertaining on any given day. Other newspaper strips (which I'll leave nameless, but you know which ones I'm talking about) are trite, repetitive, uninspired and generally boring. A strip created yesterday doesn't look all that different from one created 30-40 years ago and, because of that, a lot of people don't bother keeping up with them. (Unless it happened to be physically wedged between Calvin & Hobbes and Far Side on the newspaper page and you couldn't help but follow it.)

The same idea holds for me. If I don't at least try to come up with something clever and original on a regular basis, I'm going to fall off your radar. So guys like myself are out here trying to generate NEW content all the time. That includes interviews, reviews, anecdotes, photos, videos, and a whole host of other options. There's absolutely nothing wrong with Newsarama or CBR or The Beat or Bleeding Cool or anyone else who's provided some information about the comics industry. Not all of it is useful or pertinent to me, just like not all of it is useful or pertinent to you. You, as an individual, are going to pick out the sources of the information you like, the information you want, and you'll follow that. Maybe that information will be nothing more than official press releases, maybe it will be news peppered with a heavy dose of personal bias, maybe it will be little more than snark, but there's an audience out there for all of it.

And the things that matter, the things that people respond to en masse, will arise from whatever corner it happens to stem from and spread out accordingly. Maybe it comes from a publisher's web site, maybe it comes from a creator's Facebook page, maybe it comes from an interested, but decidedly third party's blog. And maybe it comes from a video taken with a cell phone camera by an otherwise anonymous individual who happened to be in the right place at the right time. Regardless of where it comes from, though, it will be passed along through other blogs and emails; it will be reTweeted (re-Xed?) and Redditted; it will be the inspiration for message board discussions and vlogs.

Comics journalism is not really any different than comics gossip columns, then, as both are essentially just an ad hoc group of individuals all trying to say, "Here I am." And while that could be read to have negative implications, it's actually intended to have positive ones. Information about comics -- whether it's considered "journalistic" or "voyeuristic" is irrelevant as someone will take interest in it -- is being disseminated through a vast network of people, largely unhindered by any interests but their own. This sort of approach brings more information to light more quickly, and allows the individual consumer to determine for themselves what is important and/or relevant in a more honest fashion. And, further, it allows -- even encourages -- greater discussion about the events in question.

Here in the 21st century, we have an overwhelming surplus of things to hold our attention. We're not limited by whatever filters "traditional" channels historically held (and continue to try to hold) up. We're consumers of information, just as we're consumers of food, clothing, and shelter. We can shop around for the sources and types of information we want to receive, and filter out the everything else. Don't like what I have to say? Go read Rob Salkowitz. Don't like what he has to say? Go read Johanna Draper Carlson. Don't like what she has to say? Go read Josh Fruhlinger. The list goes on and on. There is an audience for everything, and everyone can find an audience. Comics journalism does NOT rely on the narrowly-defined model of journalism that's been taught in schools for generations; it's every discussion you have and every post you make. Every time you log in and say, "Here I am," you have joined the ranks of comics journalists whether you know it or not, whether you intend to or not. Just because you don't have a business card that says you work for The Comics Journal doesn't mean you're not as much of a news/information/gossip source as they are. You are seeing comics journalism here, on Facebook, on Twitter, on YouTube, on every other social media outlet available. Comics journalism isn't just a handful of websites; it's everywhere.

Welcome to the 21st century.

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