Every now and then, an article catches my eye from the mainstream press (or in this case, the GLBT press) about a presumed connection between slash fan fiction and gay romance novels.

Most recently I noticed this article, W4M4M, in the online edition of “OUT”. And I got really annoyed.

I’ve yet to read an article (outside fandom) on this topic that included anything approaching solid reporting on what is presumed to be a trend — that gay romance is the next thing in the romance publishing industry. (That sweeping statement is verbatim from another poorly researched article, this one from December 2009 in “LA Weekly”.)

The OUT article also makes some pretty sweeping and unsupported assertions about who writes gay romance, and who reads it.

If I were writing such an article? Here are some of the, you know, ACTUAL FACTS I’d try to nail down before publishing:

First of all, is gay romance really the Next Big Thing in romance publishing? The OUT article mentions one publishing house, and a very outdated study of slash writers and readers. And no statistics.

My cursory google search turns up, for example, the entry “Romance Novels” from GLBTQ.com. This gives a fascinating list of famous gay romance, lesbian romance, and other non-straight romance books going back years. Maybe talking to the authors of those books, or their publishers, about the trends they see might be a good place to start?

Or, what about the big name heterosexual romance publishers? They would know what’s trendy. This website, The Passionate Pen, lists dozens of romance publishers. Again — cursory google search by me. Took five seconds. All those companies have PR people. Who have phones and email.

Further things to check: What about the traditional GLBT niche publishers, like the well-known Alyson? How are they doing with romance lines? Real sales and circulation figures? Just a thought.

What about the blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books? They’ve written about gay romance and lesbian romance, I’ll bet.

The OUT article also annoyed me with its amateur psychologizing about why in the world straight women would want to write gay porn. Yes, the article included an interview with two authors, but are those authors typical? And what about the presumed connection to slash? No documentation. At all.

Anecdote posing as journalism does not do this “trend story” justice. At all.

In 2009 there was a rather heated controversy, which I followed from a distance, about the changes in the rules for the Lambda Awards, which are literary awards given to GLBT fiction. This online discussion was only the tip of a possible iceberg to be explored in terms of documenting the author pool for stories about queer people (whether romance or Some Other Genre), the markets for such stories, and who’s reading them and buying them.

Fascinating and important questions were raised during that controversy about authorial voice, authenticity, the degree of realism and research needed in fiction, and the ethical questions that arise when writing about a culture or subculture different from the author’s own.

I have more questions than answers at this point, obviously. What do I seek? Good solid fact-finding on this story, please. Actual evidence for trends, including statistics — not just the reporter’s anecdotes and the repetition of gossip.

More TK.

[META] Why, yes, sloppy journalism does provoke me, why do you ask?
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8 thoughts on “[META] Why, yes, sloppy journalism does provoke me, why do you ask?

  • 28/08/2010 at 00:42

    I am with you n the GRRR! Why is it that journalism these days seems to be the most cursory repetition of “he said this” “she said that” with no actual investigation of the facts?

    • 29/08/2010 at 14:11

      Not just with these two articles, but with a lot of news articles I see in various media, anecdote and the reporter’s own preconceptions are substituted for actual data and basic thorough sourcing and research. It’s sloppy. It makes me really sad for the state of journalism today — and I say that as someone who spent two decades in that business and as someone who really believes in the profession and its role in democracy. :(.

  • 28/08/2010 at 01:45

    Even worse, neither author interviewed is straight.

    The article feels and smells like a put up job, the interview a skeleton on which to hang conclusions the writer had already reached. It reads like another putdown of women for writing about gay men for the edification of other women, ignoring the fact that the very authors who are being disbelieved and made fun of are themselves part of the GLBT.

    • 29/08/2010 at 14:13

      So much more is possible with this story about glbt romance. From every journalistic angle. It needs more sources, more facts, more solid numbers. It’s not really a ‘trend’ story at all and it’s pretending to be one.

  • 28/08/2010 at 16:25

    Further things to check: What about the traditional GLBT niche publishers, like the well-known Alyson? How are they doing with romance lines? Real sales and circulation figures? Just a thought.

    Um, no publisher in their right mind will ever release actual sales figures to a journalist unless they were spinning a story. I’m not sure they would even be allowed to, unless they’re somehow tracking sales themselves directly, and not through BookScan. I’m sure solid market research/business intelligence on this *is* out there, but it’s certainly not something you can get your hands on without paying a lot more than a casual reader or general media outlet would want to pay.

    • 29/08/2010 at 14:17

      I am certainly no expert on the book publishing industry, and if I have made an assumption about what kind of data would be available in the standard business practices of a typical publisher, I happily concede that. I can easily believe that some of this might well be considered proprietary information or “trade secrets” or something like that.

      But what I’m describing as a process is the kind of basic information gathering, context-building spadework that should go into any good news story that purports to be about a new trend — in any area of society or business.

      The journalism on display here was simply inadequate to the subject at hand.

      Also, even if proprietary information is the problem here, you can get around that by asking a lot of people, who are in a position to know, to estimate, and triangulate from there. Also there is such a thing as leaked information.

      Even if some of the sales figures I mention are inaccessible to the public, there’s a way to get a take on what the real trends are, and base that on information from a range of sources, instead of making sweeping, unsupported statements.

  • 28/08/2010 at 23:26

    Here Here!

    • 29/08/2010 at 14:18

      Glad you enjoyed.

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