[Con Culture] Best Practices in Running a Press Department: A Comic Con Parable


I normally leave comments about conventions to the convention reports. Because I have been requested by convention organizers and members of the press to post this here, I would like to share our experience dealing with Comic Con. Names of parties have been kept anonymous out of respect. I feel that this is something that needs to be addressed by convention organizers and something that needs to be discussed among fan based freelance press – no matter how big or small.

This editorial focuses on how NOT to run a press department providing examples from recent events dealing with Comic Con International. I compared best practices used by other fan run and for profit conventions against what Comic Con International did wrong. Many fan based pressed were displeased at the change. The initials CCIP will be used to describe “Comic Con International Press.”
1. Be Green, Go Electronic!

I have respected anime conventions for having press registration be a painless email or an online form. Recently, while registering for Pacific Media Expo press, it was all laid out in a simple online submissions where you can copy and paste links to articles and other media. Anime Expo and Fanime also have the same practice.

However, with Comic Con International, press was required to print out articles and submit hard copies of material. What CCIP does not understand is that print outs from CCS based websites can take up a lot of paper and a lot of ink (particularly if there is photo coverage). We printed over 70 plus pages of convention reports, editorials, and sites where we hosted podcasts. It was sheer waste of time and resources. The sad part is that other comic cons are following suite. New York Comic Con also holds this practice – hard copies of everything, no electronic submission.

However, killing a tree is not the worst of it.


2. Communication Needs to be Clear – No Excuses

When I have run “how to press” panels at anime conventions, I always highlight that it is important to go over all the rules and regulations of what a press badge entails. However, the issue I had at Wonder Con is that press guidelines were not clearly written out on the website. Though CCIP claimed it so at Wonder Con, we went back to the website to find what they were talking about.

Essentially, CCIP claimed there was a limit on press badges. The website did not communicate this clearly. Also, the website has very small font and the information is very much cluttered and scattered. I will give CCIP brownie points for eventually sending an attachment of what material needs to be sent out per outlet for Comic Con International. Yet, it is always important to have information clearly presented on a website. It is also important to define what is considered appropriate coverage and what materials need to be presented. AniMagic cited examples of specific sites and Anime Expo clearly states that an image gallery does not meet requirements for press.

I ask convention organizers to take a look at their convention press section. Are the guidelines clearly stated? Is there a limit for comp’ed badges? What is defined as a byline? What’s the contact information should anyone have questions? All communication needs to be clear on the website and info needs to be easy to find.


3. Do not tell us how to do our job

Convention coverage – of any type – are finding homes online in various media based websites. Everyone does it differently. That’s the beauty of it. Internet video reviewers will give you a vlog breakdown and perhaps some video footage spliced in between. Podcast sites will feature a convention wrap up in special two hour deluxe edition of the show. Others may write and share photos. You will also get those “Top 10 Cosplay Babes of SuperWhoLock Con” type of lists by Maxim, Playboy, etc. The point is, each site does it differently. The way how a site covers a convention is different. Additionally, each site has different people with different duties – writers, copy editors, video editors, artists, etc.

I’m not a huge fan of press applications where you have to check in as “one or the other.” In the case of Comic Con International, CCIP’s form had each outlet select what type of organization they were and requested three different bylines (or articles with a credited author). This was really confusing because Scarlet Rhapsody is a site with different types of media. In the case of conventions, it’s always a podcast and a report. The reports don’t have a “Written By Andrea” or something to that effect because reports are a collaborative effort in which everyone should be credited for.

In the case of CCIP, they wanted bylines and started telling us to start having bylines. Additionally, at Wonder Con, we were slowly moving all of our material onto Word Press. While I explicitly stated we cover about 10-15 conventions a year and also provided a print out of all 2011 coverage, they only looked at the front page with the archive list despite the fact those are not true numbers. The same case was made against towards our sibling site, Plastic Joint, who went through a similar transition.

The bottom line here is to listen and observe. It’s a good idea to be aware that each media outlet does things differently. Freelance and fan outlets that do this for the love of the game may have a set of different practices from the pros at CNN or IGN, but it does not mean they should be snubbed upon.

Additionally, some outlets wish to have editors that go by pen names. CCIP did not respect this in our regard. Personally, I wish not to disclose my real name on S|R . I prefer to differentiate my day to day life from my hobbies. Such as the case for many other fan based media outlets.


4. Timing!

From the attendee standpoint, travel planning for conventions takes time. What annoyed me with CCIP is that they informed of our status less than a month and a half before the convention. By this time, hotels and tickets were sold out. Industry registration was also a no-go since that deadline had passed. While we were notified the night before resale badges went on sale, even those were impossible to get a hold of. In contrast, I do appreciate that Reed Pop understood t our press status prior to New York Anime Fest so we can plan out lodgings, travel, etc from Los Angeles. We were rejected from New York Comic Con, it still gave us ample time to buy a three day badge and make arrangements. CCIP failed to notify us in a timely fashion where we could look into back up options to secure our coverage plans for Comic Con – with or without a press badge.

Additionally, another stark contrast between New York Comic Con and CCIP, is that NYCC gave us reasons outlined why we were not approved. I gladly accepted that they were looking for higher numbers and industry oriented outlets. I respected they outlined it in detail. In contrast, we had to call CCIP to find out why we were rejected and were given a less than pleasant response. You will read about that more in the next point.

(Note: Comic Con has moved up press registration early with a December 2012 deadline for the 2013 show)


5. Customer Service 101: R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me

No matter who you work with and no matter who you deal with, always keep that air of professionalism. While the nerd convention community is full of eccentric artists and personalities, one must never loose composure and one must always remember who they are representing. When our team member called CCIP to investigate what we needed or if there was a chance to appeal, we were met with downright rudeness. The team member simply asked what we could have done, but was given a brow beating. Said team member also mentioned CCIP brought other convention organizations in conversation that had nothing to do with Comic Con International.

I have had better customer service at Anime Expo 2012. When they lost our information, they patiently were able to take a look at the website to give us the final call. When one of our editors lost their badge on the last day, Anime Expo gave them a $5 replacement badge. The secret is to deal with the situation with grace and professionalism. It’s already a lot of work and energy covering a convention, and it makes our job easier when convention organizers know their customer service 101.


Conclusion: Now You’re Just A Con I Used To Know 

All of us can admit that Comic Con International is not the con it used to be. As more mainstream Hollywood is buying it up, it’s losing its meaning and target market. It’s no longer centered around comics. When the fans are no longer the ones making the decisions at the top, the event begins to falter. I have no problem with industry events, but I do have a problem when events stray away from the original mission and vision. The Comic Con featured in Spurlock’s documentary is not the Comic Con today.

It has also been brought to my attention that we were not the only fan oriented outlet that has been bullied and brow beaten by CCIP. According to one of our contributors, several bloggers and webzines were also rejected. When articles came up for Comic Con International, the coverage seemed very bland and I felt I really did not get a well rounded view of the con. While it’s cool to hear announcements via Twitter, I really felt I did not get a full picture of the con. I kept seeing the “Leave The Twihards Alone, At Least They’re Literate!,  “Booth Babes are People Too Just Like Me and You,” “I Got Into Comic Con, And You Did Not!” etc articles surface the web. I found more editorials about con culture than I did about the con itself. While I love reading about nerd culture, it’s not convention coverage.

Most of all, it’s not about the free badge, it’s the opportunity to cover and report the things we love so that others may be informed and entertained.

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