Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Clark Kent hands in press pass, heads for mother's basement

Clark Kent (left) in the latest Superman issue.
It's just too funny. In the latest issue of the Superman comic, the writers have written a plot where Clark Kent quits journalism in disgust at the low tone his editors are encouraging him to adopt. Apparently "the Daily Planet's editor-in-chief has soured on Kent because he is not getting enough front page scoops on his beat", according to the Fox News story on the DC Comics move.
“This is really what happens when a 27-year-old guy is behind a desk and he has to take instruction from a larger conglomerate with concerns that aren’t really his own,” Superman writer Scott Lobdell said to USA Today.
“Superman is arguably the most powerful person on the planet, but how long can he sit at his desk with someone breathing down his neck and treating him like the least important person in the world?” Lobdell said.
In a written statement to the website, DC Comics pointed to  a number of contemporary issues that sparked the crisis for Kent: "the balance of journalism vs. entertainment, the role of new media, the rise of the citizen journalist, etc." So Kent quits because his cash-strapped editors and the newspaper's proprietor are dumbing down the news? Lobdell goes on to suggest a career as a blogger on the model of Ariana Huffington or Matt Drudge but I wonder if Huffington's business model might offend the scrupulous Kent (Huffington Post contributors are not paid) and if Drudge's conservative politics might put him off. Perhaps a better model would be for Kent to set up as a publisher of long-form journalism sold via ebooks, as Charlotte Harper has done with her new business, Editia. After all, long-form journalism offers the depth that Kent seems to think is missing from his work on the Daily Planet. It also allows writers to be properly paid for their work, and avoids a party-political cast along the way.

We'll have to wait and see. The plot switch by DC Comics is both clever and interesting, and illustrates a deep feeling of unease in developed countries where the news business is struggling to fulfil its remit. Part of the romance of journalism is the public-interest function it has, which is presumably one of the reasons Kent took to the keyboard in the first place. The idea that proprietors are resorting to the production of lightweight stories aimed at securing audience attention, to the detriment of the public-interest function, is not something to be ignored. Of course, this is just one take on the current impasse for the print media. Others see a polarisation occurring, where different platforms adopt different political allegiences in order to grab audience attention. The record shows that consumers like to have their political biases affirmed by the media outlet they use. In short, the plot switch from DC Comics is part of a larger narrative designed to render Kent and his alter ego relevant for today's readers, but while it may not embody a deeply analytical appreciation of the state of the media it's certainly of interest to those who blog and those who earn a living writing journalism. A source of humour, if nothing else.


Mark Atwood said...

One of my favorite jokes goes like this:
"What with the end of payphones, where will Superman change?"
"Change? That's the least of his problems. Where will he WORK?!"

I'm amused to see that the publishers of DC comics have finally allowed the writers to catch up to the realities of modern print "journalism".

Mark Atwood said...

One of my favorite jokes goes:
"What with the end of payphones, where will Superman change?"
"Change? That's the least of his problems. Where will he WORK?!"

I am amused to see that the publishers of DC comics have finally let the writers of Superman incorporate the reality of contemporary print "journalism".

Matthew da Silva said...

Well I think "print" is out the door, sure, but "journalism" is very much alive. All they have to do is find a new business model to support it. Belive me, it's necessary.