Spoiler hounds and pro trolls: Why DC Rebirth buzzkills played dirty

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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. 

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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.

More from around the web