The reporter’s notebook

So your editor has given you an assignment to write about manga and/or anime, but you don’t really know very much about either. It’s never fun to be told to sound informed about something that may be completely new to you, but you decided to be a journalist at some point, and that’s pretty much going to be your job until you inevitably slide into public relations after all of the newspapers close. (They should have mentioned that in your orientation class or during one of your advising sessions, but you can probably understand why they didn’t. Sorry!)

There are lots of ways this assignment can go wrong, but there’s one that can really make you look dumb for a number of reasons. In your desire to inform people, it may occur to you to point people towards examples of manga and anime. That’s a good impulse, and it demonstrates a willingness to embrace the hyperlink as an informative tool, and all journalists will need to figure that out sooner or later after all of the newspapers and magazines become web-based instead of printed. (I bet your college offered a new media course, and I bet you took it, because you could surf the web for credit instead of just texting quietly under your desk in the lecture hall. Learning is great!)

But here’s a tip: don’t rely on the top search results for a title you’re writing about, because they’ll almost always point you to pirated versions of the property in question. I’ve seen this happen a few times in the last month via links that showed up in news alerts based on common search terms, and it’s been evident in those cases that the writer in question had no idea that there was a distinction between a pirated comic online and a licensed, published work. And in fairness, none of those sites are going to rush to tell the casual visitor that the site has no right to publish and/or broadcast the manga and/or anime, because then they’d be admitting they were stealing stuff. Now, you may not immediately see a problem with this, but I’m sure someone in your organization (possibly the publisher or, if it’s large enough, the general counsel) can probably tell you all about the ethical conundrum of driving traffic to an enterprise predicated on the violation of copyright and the theft of intellectual property. (Isn’t it great that the senior media ethics seminar is just an elective now? I heard those classes are hard! Daniella [All About Comics] Orihuela-Gruber assures me that all of her college journalism courses included a significant ethics component. Snark withdrawn.)

I’ll do a quick test by typing in the name of a very popular manga series into a search engine to see what comes up. The top link is Wikipedia, and your superiors probably don’t like it when you use that as a source. (I’m a blogger, so I can link to whatever I like!) The second link is a for-profit piracy site. It’s not until the third link that you get to someone who actually has a right to publish the comic, which you can tell from the fact that the first word in the link description is “Official,” which admittedly doesn’t immediately promise hours of fun, but it has that comforting sheen of legality. The next link is for an informational site, and the one after that is for a pirated version of the anime. Then there are two more links for pirated versions of the manga. It’s a mine field, isn’t it?

So what’s the quickest way to make sure that you’re writing about the versions that actually allow the creators to receive a portion of the profits? My advice would be to skip the search engines or at least to hold off on them until after you’ve done a search at a legitimate online retailer like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Right Stuf. All of these vendors list a publisher for every product, and then you can search for that publisher and link to the property description on their site. Some publishers share previews of many of their titles, though possibly not the specific title that you’re writing about. Some publishers even share big chunks of series online either for free or for small fees per chapter. There are also some legitimate online anime distributors that make a lot of preview content available for free.

Here’s the thing: if you can’t tell the difference between a legal version of a product and a pirated version, your editors certainly can’t. Your webmasters might be able to, but they’re overworked and cynical and people treat them badly. (Your editor is just cynical.) So it’s ultimately up to you to try and find out if you’re driving traffic to a web site that’s stealing stuff. Your best bet is to see who’s legitimately distributing the product you’re writing about and to pick your links accordingly. It isn’t as hard as it sounds, and you won’t look dumb.

And just as a quick addendum, if the online platform for your writing offers visitors the opportunity to comment on your articles, you should check those comments regularly. Sometimes people show up and mention that you’re driving traffic to a piracy site, and when you neglect to reply or modify your article, you look even dumber or indifferent to legitimate concerns about the outcome of your article.

3 Responses to The reporter’s notebook

  1. While I totally get the point of the article, as a recently graduated journalism major, I’d like to point out that every single journalism course I took had an ethics component. It was totally banged into us. Now that I think about it, I think an ethics class is standard if you want an accredited journalism program. The new media classes might be a little slower in reaching every journalism program because it’s only been a little while since journalism as a whole has been able to embrace it. But there are courses out there because there have to be right now.

    I think the main problem is that it’s easy to get lazy, especially about subjects you don’t care for or don’t know much about. Everyone faces it in their jobs, but it just sucks more when misinformation about something you love is spread by a lazy journalist.

    If I were writing this post, I would really just say: Do your research, try to really get to know some fans and remember that it’s a culture. If you were reporting on another kind of culture, say an ethnic one, you would not want to disrespect that culture with misinformation. It’s no different with anime culture, it’s just a different kind of culture.
    If you’re worried about getting it wrong, talk to a source about it. If you’re still worried, talk to more sources and maybe your editor, if it’s appropriate. Keep talking to people until you understand.

  2. davidpwelsh says:

    Thanks for the insights, Daniella, and sorry of my snark went to extreme levels. But I’ve seen this happen enough lately, in reasonably high-profile, for-profit news portals and at college publications, to view it as a serious problem. And it alarms me at least as much in the sense that it indicates either a lack of understanding or a disinterest in a creator’s rights to profit from their work and control its distribution (and I certainly include journalists in the category of creators). These media outlets are undermining intellectual property rights by inadvertently legitimizing the theft of them.

    It’s been a long while since I was in school, but were intellectual property and copyright issues addressed in your course work?

    • It’s alright. I figured you were just frustrated by journalistic coverage. It happens, sadly, but I thought I’d at least point out that journalism departments take their curriculum seriously. Unfortunately, theory is a lot easier to get right than practice and then you get lazy journalists. So I think the real problem is that laziness and a lack of understanding. Anime is pretty unique in it’s piracy problems. Most journalists, who are really more like elaborate filters of information rather than creators of anything really unique in my opinion, don’t face that problem as much and probably commit piracy themselves. It’s really sad and I wish I could change it, but as far as I can help it, I’m not going back into mainstream journalism.

      Yes, intellectual property and copyright issues were covered, but they weren’t covered as much as ethics. If I was running a journalism class, I probably would include them. Still, a media law class was required by my department as well and it’s extremely important to journalists in many ways, so I imagine that other schools have them too.

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