Why Deadline Is the Troll We Can’t Ignore

March 25, 2015

Godzilla-facepalm

[Forgive me if I begin here a little basic for some of you.]

They’re called the “trades,” for the uninitiated out there.

They aren’t magical arcane scrolls or anything. In fact, odds are good there’s one or several or several dozen related to your job. A “trade” is simply a publication that covers the news and relevant events of a particular industry and/or profession. Plumbers, baristas, waiters, welders. They all have them.

It just so happens the trades covering the film industry–Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Deadline, etc.–involve celebrities, who rank from American royalty to American deities.

Therefore they carry a little more grandeur.

Okay, a lot more.

Here’s a story. Don’t worry, it’s a quick one. In 2013 I was hired to write a little entertainment television show (and I mean I was hired to write literally the whole damn thing). It didn’t make me rich and it didn’t make me famous, but because it was part of a package sold to and distributed by FremantleMedia (you’ve seen their logo at the tail-end of many of your favorite filler television programs) it *did* make the trades. Not me, and not my name, but the show did. It was mentioned in all of the above publications, this thing I had written out here in Hollywood that would now be seen on televisions around the world.

It was a first for me.

Man, I was jazzzzzzzzzzzzzed.

I clipped and printed every article from every trade and saved them all, hung a bunch around my desk. You know, to “motivate” me, to inspire me to climb higher and do better and write the things I came to this town to write and get them seen and sold and made. I was officially Out Here. I was part of the town in some tiny but undeniable way. I was in the game. I was in-play.

I was a geek, I admit it.

I also thought to myself, “Hey, now that I’m in the trades I should probably follow and read them more closely.”

And I did.

And I kind of wish I hadn’t.

You see, you realize pretty quickly when you read the trades that they don’t just report on sales and casting of movies and television shows. They also espouse and literally create opinion in this town. About many things. About everything. They’re powerful pieces of doctrine. And that can be a good thing, but rarely is.

The most grotesquely powerful example of this I can conjure was posted yesterday by Deadline.

You’ve probably heard about and/or read the article by now. In any case I’m not going to link to it. I will link you to this Entertainment Weekly article which perfectly sums up the piece in question, and features just a sampling of the tweets from an epic rant I went on last night after reading the most blatantly and dangerously racist piece of industry-related filth I’ve seen since I moved to Los Angeles.

I’m not going to write about the content of the article. Much smarter folks than me have already done that, including blogging force of nature Luvvie over on Awesomely Luvvie. Kevin Fallon also wrote an insightful piece for The Daily Beast on exactly what makes said content so dangerous.

I also should not need to explain to anyone why a major entertainment industry news outlet asking the question, “Are there too many non-white people on TV?” is both phantasmagorically ignorant, deeply racist, and patently unacceptable. I just shouldn’t. If you don’t get that you have a serious problem with ignorance or racism and need to deal with one or both. Do that on your own time.

No, I want to write briefly (too late, I know) about something else. You see, I’ve had a lot of replies to those tweets. A lot. All of them in agreement, all of them supportive. Many, however, have gone to lengths to explain to me and everyone else that Deadline has become a hotbed of trolling. They post “click-bait” and “race-bait” designed to draw attention and needlessly sensationalize and shock folks into responding and building their audience and brand.

And I don’t disagree with that. In fact, I sincerely hope the Deadline article in question was click-bait, was race-bait, designed specifically for that purpose.

The idea a writer just plain thinks those things and is sincere in presenting them horrifies me way more.

I don’t disagree about their practices or tactics, but here’s the rub: calling them out for click-baiting or trolling implies we should ignore them. We shouldn’t link to the posts, drive traffic, talk about them.

We should just ignore them and they’ll go away.

That is not an acceptable option.

This is precisely why this thing enrages me far beyond one writer’s opinion. Deadline is a major Hollywood trade publication. It just is. Whatever your opinion of them. They are read by people in this industry with the power to make decisions about content and policy. They influence those people. They inform those people. They literally help create what those people perceive as reality. Most of those folks are simply not on the ground-level reading all of our tweets, as much as we’d like them to be. They’re reading or hearing about what the trades said and being hardwired through those markets.

That is why this Deadline article, and every piece like it, cannot be ignored.

It literally creates the problem and poses a very real threat to our industry.

Look, I’ll be starkly honest with all of you. I’m a little writer with a little audience just trying to make ends meet. I use social media and this blog to help me do that. In a much smaller way, I’m in the same race Deadline is. Thus I love being retweeted thousands of times. I love being mentioned by Entertainment Weekly. I love getting a slight hat tip from Ava DuVernay and connecting with Shonda Rhimes on Twitter (who wouldn’t? She’s a force of nature of which I stand in awe). I love all of that shit. I won’t even attempt to deny it.

But I can tell you with equally stark honesty none of that is what this one is about.

Because I also genuinely love television as a medium. I love movies. I love writing both. I love visual storytelling. I love the opportunities doing so affords me to take care of my family. I love all of these things and believe in all of these things. I want all of these things desperately.

But I do NOT want to work in an industry and live in a town that institutionalizes racism on a cultural, professional, and creative level.

I don’t want to be allowed to work or create because some white racist asshole looks at me and sees him or herself and Deadline told them it’s “okay” to hire me.

I don’t want to watch an entire generation of creators and performers of color reduced to some kind of failed test case because of one successful season of television, which makes so little sense I can’t even process it as a concept.

I don’t want to be a party to any of that.

It’s bullshit.

It’s last-century bullshit.

It needs to pass into memory.

I’m fortunate enough to have friends and if not friends then folks who at least read my stuff casually who also work in this town. I don’t think any of you want to do your jobs and practice your art under these conditions, either. Deadline and any outlet like them, whether or not they’re click-baiting or race-baiting, need to be held accountable and made to retract their perpetuation of such doctrine.

They don’t need to be ignored, they need to be held to task and changed.

And we need to be willing to call them out.

That’s the other part. Because you do worry. I worry about calling them out publicly. I worried doing so would mean I’d never see something I wrote mentioned in an article again. I worried it might somehow hurt my career. It probably seems silly to some of you, but it’s not. I’m not bulletproof. I’m nobody. I don’t have a reputation or credibility. It’s very easy to lose work out here because you mouthed off to the wrong folks or in the wrong way. And I see that in others. The hesitation to engage directly. The relief that someone else did it for you, said it for you. I get that. I really do. I don’t blame anyone for feeling the same things I feel.

But it needs to done, and everyone needs to do it.

We all have to make a choice. Because just like Deadline or any of the trades, *we* create the industry in which we work.

And our silence is as powerful and determining as their words.

Choose.