The past week saw the major twists from big comics from both DC and Marvel leak early, prompting a wave of hand-wringing from prominent comics creators and journalists over the morality of spoilers. One such journalists is Blastr's Aaron Sagers, who published a think-piece decrying the leaks. He began:
I did not think I'd have to write about DC Universe: Rebirth #1 for a few days. Though I was part of a small group of journalists who gathered to read the issue by Geoff Johns -- which kicks off the publisher-wide relaunch of their comics – a coverage embargo was in place until Wednesday, May 25, when the book was available for everyone to pick up.
Well, isn't Aaron Sagers special? He was part of an elite group of journalists gathered by Geoff Johns himself to read the issue early. This is a privilege that Aaron Sagers earned, presumably by being a good little boy and always using his power for good, or at least, the good of corporate comics publishers. So it's clear right off the bat why Sagers is so disappointed in the leak of DC Rebirth; it took something that made him special and gave it to regular people on the internet, in such non-exclusive places like Reddit and Twitter. Those people didn't earn the privilege like Sagers did. They don't deserve it.
The book is Johns' love letter to DC Comics – as well as a farewell to writing comics for a bit as he heads off to co-lead DC Films -- and resets the DNA of that universe to bring it back to the hopefulness and optimism of days gone by. You can read more about that in another story, and keep an eye out for an extensive interview with Johns this week.
Who wants to place bets that this "extensive interview" doesn't even mention the multiple sexual harassment allegations plaguing DC Comics and their lack of adequate response to it? Those kind of difficult questions aren't the sort of thing that earns you access to small groups of journalists privileged with reading super-mega-crossover event books early, after all.
And on a side note, did Sagers really write the phrase "resets the DNA of that universe to bring it back to the hopefulness and optimism of days gone by?" Was his article ghostwritten by DC's PR department, or has he just been repeating the words of publicists so long that his mind actually formulates thoughts like them now?
During the press gathering, for which Johns was in attendance, he said he hoped we'd be allowed to write about it before the embargo so readers could get impressions from those of us who had time to read and digest it fully before the Internet combustion machine took over.
Sadly, things played out in a different fashion.
Oh, so Sagers was meant to get the EXXXCLUSIVE rights to write EXXXCLUSIVELY about DC Rebirth before the commoners got ahold of it. Of course, when Sagers wrote about DC Rebirth early, it would have been with the class and dignity befitting a man who Geoff Johns personally chose to read the book, and not the unfiltered brain vomit of a person with a Reddit account, an account which, for chrissakes, anyone can just sign up for. What separates journalists from ordinary filth if the contents of comics that haven't hit stores yet can simply be discussed openly by anyone who wants to, right on the god damn internet, instead of just those hand-pick chosen ones with the blessing of the Time Warner corporation?!
Pages from the book "leaked" onto Reddit, and some less savory websites in nerd media picked up the story and began discussing major spoilers from the issue. They argued "newsworthiness" as a reason, and suggested it was a good thing because, by breaking the seal on coverage, other websites would no longer have to honor the embargo. One site admitted they were not in the group of press who got a preview of the book, and so, they argued, they were never bound by any embargo anyhow.
This is decidedly not cool.
Less savory websites than Blastr, who have never been known to publish stories on leaks, right? That is not cool. It's so not cool, it's decidedly not cool. Don't these other websites know that Aaron Sagers is important? Geoff Johns thinks so. Why can't trash-eaters like Rich Johnston, The Outhousers, or all of social media users collectively as a group, see how important he is? Not cool. Decidedly not cool at all.
As my colleague Alex Zalben tweeted, "If someone steals a TV, and you get the TV somehow and then give other people the TV...you're a criminal."
Yeah, except that a TV is a thing, whereas spoilers are words, ideas, thoughts. When you take that thing from somebody, they no longer have it, and thus you have stolen it from them. Breaking an embargo is a contractual issue more akin to someone divulging their grand jury testimony to the press. Yes, the person who broke the rules / embargo did something wrong, because they agreed not to do that, but the sins of the sinner are not visited upon the recipient of the top secret information. Once that information is out there, it automatically becomes the possession of anyone who sees it, as that is the nature of information. It's not even the same thing as piracy, which requires the transfer of an actual digital copy of the comic itself. Information, knowledge, is transferred by conversation, and stored in your brain cells. Aaron Sagers believes that his position as a member of the press who has a cozy relationship with the people and corporations he reports on makes gives him a legitimate exclusive claim to the possession of knowledge itself.
Alex nails it. Whoever put pages on Reddit (and I suspect, sadly, it was a member of the press) was being dirty, but it would have likely remained in the Reddit-sphere had it not been for the unsavory outlets claiming newsworthiness.
Not only does Sagers not get that Alex does anything but "nail it," but he also fundamentally doesn't understand the internet. Reddit has more readers than Bleeding Cool. Reddit is in the top 30 websites in the entire world. Sagers is stuck in the view that old media, established and funded and carefully controlled by profit-driven corporations, is still the only media that matters. But the fact is, social media has made old media obsolete in many ways. Why should people get their news from corporate shills hours after it happens when they can get it unfiltered directly from the source?
That's not to say that "proper" journalism doesn't have a role. But more and more often, mainstream journalism fails in that role, and this happens from important global political reporting all the way down to niche entertainment media. If established websites were so important, they would have been investigating the sexual harassment scandal at DC Comics years ago, but that's not what happened. The comics industry's "old media" ignored that story, and stories like it, as long as it possibly could, until the outcry about it on social media and dumb websites like this one become too loud to ignore. It took a ton of pressure to make the biggest comics and geek sites admit that those allegations even exist, mostly with a single article, reprinting DC's official statement on the matter, and no follow-up.
So I hope you'll excuse me when I take Sagers' assertion that, if only "legitimate" media had ignored those spoilers, they would have been left to flounder in the wasteland of social media where nobody who matters will read it, with a big fat grain of salt. People don't wait for comics media to read about the news in comics because they've learned that comics media can't really be trusted. Twitter, Reddit, Tumblr, small blogs... those places might not have EXXXCLUSIVE access to top comics executives, but at least they're fucking honest.
Hiding behind the shield of newsworthiness in this instance belies laziness, and a lack of skill – at best. Or, it is an excuse to justify a crass grab for clicks. And in this case, "newsworthiness" is meant to hide what I perceive as a threat to DC. The subtext in the newsworthy claim is "Since we weren't included, we don't have to follow your rules and can spoil the fun." To frame it in the parlance of our times, the offenders were butt-hurt.
Sagers claims that, for anyone who was not deemed part of DC Comics journalism inner circle, engaging in the exchange of EXXXCLUSIVE early access to information for fawning fluff pieces and 10 star reviews, they must be butthurt about that. The idea that a website might have no interest in kissing corporate ass in order to get preferential treatment from a comics executive never crosses his mind. We're just jealous. Butt-hurt. Unlike Aaron Sagers, whose whiny think-piece on the subject comes not from a place of butt-hurt, but righteous moral indignation.
Newsworthiness itself is often up for debate. I have worked in news media for a very long time, and I continue to ask how you, the reader, are being served by my report. Am I informing and enriching, or attempting to stir up scandal? Because I have "new" information, is it automatically my duty to publish it? Not necessarily, and I think many journalists agree.
Sagers says he considers whether he is serving "the reader," but it's clear from the rest of his post that the reader's interest is secondary to the interest of the corporation. Does Blastr or its ilk consider whether new information is "worth" sharing when that information comes in the form of a press release or officially sanctioned fluff interview? It seems like any publicity alert sent out by Marvel or DC is instantly covered on every big site. Do we just assume that information is inherently worthy because a publicist provided it? Why does this thorough introspection only come into play when the information in question is something those publicists wouldn't be happy with?
And this is not a beef about spoilers (although putting it in headlines, or using spoilery images to lead with is entertainment journalism malfeasance). I believe there is a time and place for spoiler-filled conversation, and we ran one yesterday, in fact, since DC has allowed the media to proceed. I struggle to always ask "Why" this spoiler is worth discussing.
I would argue that it's not the job of journalists to decide what news is and isn't worth it. It's the job of journalists to report it. Of course, we're talking about silly comics journalism, and the content of superhero chapbooks, but try to apply that statement to any more serious subject and see if it still holds water. "Is it worth discussing the mistreatment of creators by the comics industry, which has resulted in Supreme Court legal cases?" "Is it worth talking about the CEO of a comics publisher donating money to and supporting Donald Trump?" "Is it even worth discussing sexual harassment allegations against the upper management of one of the top two comics companies?" Of course it is. However, oddly enough, that's something that Blastr apparently decided wasn't worth discussing at all.
Yes, journalists have a responsibility to responsibility. They should do their best to report the truth, to protect sources, to maintain integrity. Part of that integrity means putting the interests of the people above the interests of the industry on which you're reporting. Journalists and publicists are not meant to be the same thing. Sadly, the idea that entertainment journalism exists for the purpose of promoting entertainment companies is rampant, both in the management of those companies, and in the management of the news outlets themselves.
Moreover, there is an incredible difference between posting spoilers for a comic, movie, TV show that has been released, versus a copy of the product acquired via dodgy means before it's officially out there. Although the copy posted on Reddit was likely acquired by the leaker through reputable means, their actions are tantamount to piracy. They were not authorized to release those pages, and the owner of the content (DC Comics) was not prepared to have the work discussed, yet.
And while the person who leaked the comic on Reddit was likely violating an agreed-to embargo, once that information was out there, it's fair game for anyone to talk about. Is Aaron Sagers honestly suggesting that the entirety of comics journalism simply pretend that these spoilers don't exist, just so as to not hurt the feelings of DC Comics? Should we close our eyes, jam our fingers in our ears, and say "na na na na na na na" until the comic is officially released and DC says it's okay to talk about?
Additionally, please think of the creators behind that comic, etc. Many people poured a lot of themselves into a thing, and I happen to believe their wishes on when it can be shared/released should be respected.
Setting aside the spurious nature of claims that mass-produced, editorially-driven superhero super-mega-crossover event comics written by comics executives are outpourings of the artistic soul, does Sagers' website really believe this? They didn't believe it about the after-credits scene to the movie Captain America: Civil War, or Mads Mikkelsen's Star Wars: Rogue One role, about which the lede on Blastr's article read, "The Disney snipers were definitely not ready for this one when Mads Mikkelsen let slip a spoiler about his Rogue One: A Star Wars story role." What makes spoilers from DC Rebirth more sacred than any of that?
Oh, yeah. Geoff Johns personally chose Aaron Sagers to read it early. Aaron Sagers is special, and all of us are ruining it for him.
Media outlets who shared the pages, and used the leak as an opportunity to discuss the plot, and reveal spoilers, are accessories to piracy. They weren't simply reporting on a rumor. And that disreputable behavior encourages others to follow suit. But those sites likewise expose themselves as willing to engage in other ethically questionable actions. Share bootlegged stinger scenes from the latest super hero movie? Post pirated episodes of Doctor Who or Game of Thrones?
"Well, we're just reporting on and showing what's already out there," they may say. "If we hadn't done it, someone else would have...and it was out there on Reddit, anyhow," they could claim.
I hate to keep bringing this up because obviously the reporting of spoilers is nowhere near the importance of reporting on alleged rampant sexual harassment in the upper echelons of DC Comics management, but a similar ethical question is raised when one considers what else a site so adamant about protecting the desires of a corporation they're supposed to be reporting on would be willing to "hold back" if that corporation convinced them that it would be damaging to the company. If a media outlet considers the subjects its reporting on more important than its own readers, then it loses the trust of readers, which is, in my book, a lot worse than losing the trust of DC Entertainment.
This kind of mentality is damaging to all media outlets, and negatively impacts our ability to gain access, and share legitimate news and reveals with you. And those that just want to post a creative work in advance, before the right time, hurt fandom -- and kills a bit of the joy of discovery.
Those who broke embargo, posted pages, released spoilers early, or cried "newsworthiness" are the children at a birthday party who want to kill the fun for the birthday boy or girl. They can't stand when someone else might be having a good time, so they have to say what's in the gift about to be unwrapped.
They are professional trolls, and are claiming to serve you by robbing you of the joy of unwrapping that gift – or cracking open a comic – to find what's inside all for yourself.
Sagers' closing argument, that spoilers ruin the enjoyment of a comic, seem predicated on the idea that when spoilers are available, people simply cannot help themselves from reading them. Of course, this fits with his implied belief that journalists, at least proper ones like him, have an inherent superiority to everyone else, so it's not surprising that he views readers as mindless automatons who have no choice but to read a spoiler if it is available, and who need to be properly managed by careful coordination between press and publishers in order to maximize their revenue potential.
Ultimately, the outrage over all these spoilers seems dishonest when there are plenty of more important things to be outraged on, which the old media is oddly silent about. I see a lot more established journalists and established comics creators complaining about these spoiler leaks than I saw openly talking about the sexual harassment problem in the comics industry, even though most of them have been well aware of it for years, considering it an open secret to be gossiped about behind closed doors, juicy information to be traded only amongst those deemed worthy of membership in an exclusive club. If Aaron Sagers believes that journalism serves a higher, nobler purpose than the distribution of spoilers obtained on social media, then perhaps his think-piece efforts would be better devoted to talking about Eddie Berganza on the major media outlet he writes for.
Then again, I see that Blastr has more important things to cover, such as the leaked post-credits scene for the upcoming movie, X-Men Apocalypse.