Meet the Filler

Here is a piece on Comic Book Resources by Steve Sunu: Gillen Introduces His “Young Avengers.” I griped about it on Twitter yesterday and wanted to explain why I dislike this sort of piece so much. First let me say up front that I don’t mean to pick too hard on Sunu’s piece itself. It’s not poorly written and does clearly link to Gillen’s blog right from the start.

Kieron Gillen is writing an upcoming series for Marvel Comics called Young Avengers, with art by Jamie McKelvie. It’s probably the new series I’m most excited about. I like Gillen’s writing, McKelvie’s art is amazing, and I’m very fond of Allan Heinberg’s original Young Avengers series (which I’ve written about previously). On his weblog, Gillen is writing a series of “Meet the Team” posts in which he goes over his approach to each character. It’s good stuff. The above-linked CBR article is about these blog posts. But instead of just providing a link to them, it spends ten paragraphs liberally quoting from Gillen’s posts. I see this sort of thing all over technology, comics, and games sites, and it annoys me. I’d like to try to spell out why.

First, I think the article is long enough that it’s very likely you might read it and not read Gillen’s original posts instead. By word count, it’s a full 30% the size of the original posts. In my mind, the entire point of the CBR article should be to get you to visit Gillen’s site and read what he wrote there. But it’s long enough that many readers might just read the quotes there and not click through. Now, in this case Sunu does provide a link right up front to Gillen’s blog, so that’s good and I don’t think he’s doing Business Insider-calibre shady stuff here, but I do think this post is padding itself out a lot. Basically Sunu has taken what should be a link and a few quotes and turned it into 800+ words.

The wonderful thing about the Web is its ability to link to primary sources. In an academic paper or a magazine article, you have to reprint quotes and provide bibliography-style references because readers don’t have access to the referents. On the Web, you can send readers directly to the source where they can read it for themselves. Sending people to read those blog posts should be the point of articles like this.

This all comes from me being very much in the Jason Kottke/John Gruber school of writing for the Web. The principle, is this: your site should have A) original writing and B) links to other good stuff online. If you find something that you think your readers will like, and you don’t have a ton to add to it, just provide a link and your readers can go check it out. (And obviously if you do have a lot to say about it, by all means you should write a longer piece responding to it.) People will go to your site to find good stuff, either written by you or referred by you to that stuff, and they’ll come back because you’re good at finding good stuff. CBR, instead of diluting its own (often very good) original interviews and convention coverage, should be proud of its ability to find what writers and artists are doing online and sending its readers to check that stuff out. It doesn’t need to pad out its content with full-length articles like this when a short link would do. (And I’ll say making a change like I’m proposing would probably necessitate a redesign of the site to allow link-style and full-length posts to appear in-line together but be visually distinguishable. It’s easy to criticize but hard to make actual changes. And CBR of course has a staff to pay, though Kottke and Gruber and many others make good livings doing things the “right” way.)

I mentioned my dislike of the article on Twitter last night, and Gillen responded saying, “I’m entirely pro people covering it.” As he should be. As I said, I’m super excited to read his Young Avengers and I hope it does well enough that he can write it for years to come. What’s funny about his statement is that I hadn’t even considered his posts to be marketing. To me, who’s already pre-ordered the book, it was 100% process writing. It was him giving some insight into the thinking behind his series. Sort of thinking out loud. But of course it’s marketing. He’s also trying to drum up excitement about a book that maybe isn’t an easy sell the way Iron Man might be. So yeah, Gillen should want CBR to pick up and cover his blog posts. My objection isn’t to that CBR wrote about it, just the manner in which it was done.

Comics sites (and game and tech and Huffington Post and so on) are full of so much filler. I just want them to be better. I’m tired of seeing press releases run as articles. Of preview pages presented as news. I want better reporting, more linking, more insight, and more commentary.