Fixing Animation Journalism
Emru Townsend · November 16, 2006 | Over at Cartoon Brew, Amid Amidi recently noted the latest affront to animation journalism: Associated Press writer Christy Lemire referred to the method for animating Mumble's dancing in Happy Feet as "stop-motion." This, of course, follows Josh Friedman's claim that Sony invented squash & stretch for Open Season in October in the Los Angeles Times, Mick LaSalle's infamously bad Monster House article for the San Francisco Chronicle back in July, the countless offences against anime over the last twenty years, and the long history of writers who have used the phrase "the magic of animation" as a hand-waving shorthand for "Please don't ask me how this works."
It's not terribly surprising. Moviemaking is a mystery to most people (ask a layperson what an film's editor does; I'll bet they can't tell you), and animation more so. And since animation is still seen as kid's stuff, it's not judged important enough to do a little research.
I've long believed that a big part of the problem is that the best animation writers mostly write for animation-specific publications or are, at best, consulted for quotes. What's needed are for talented, knowledgeable people to contribute to the popular press, which over time will have the twin results of elevating the discussion and forcing editors to realize that they have to ask for better than they're currently getting.
There are obstacles to this. Some editors simply don't care. Some don't realize there's anything wrong with their coverage. (I don't know which is worse.) Some are hamstrung by bureaucracy, limited budgets, entrenched staff writers, or some combination of the above.
This isn't speculation, but hard-won experience. I've been pitching animation stories to mainstream publications for almost twenty years. The amount of times I've succeeded based on my expertise? Twice—and one of those times it was only after I'd gotten my foot in the door as a technology writer. (The irony there was that I got the technology-writer gig as a result of an off-the-cuff letter to the editor citing their lack of tech savvy. However, a carefully thought-out pitch to the same paper years earlier failed to get me any animation-related assignments.)
So how are we going to elevate the public discourse about animation? First, knowledgeable writers will have to keep (or start) pitching editors. Second, when someone does write a well-informed article about animation, we need to write in with praise, even if we disagree with the article's conclusion. Editors thrive on feedback, and all publications want to maintain or increase readership. When editors hear that people like the work of a particular writer, they try to give them more assignments. When they know what people like about an article, they look for more of that from other writers as well.
Finally, and most important, we need to hold writers' and editors' feet to the fire. When a writer does something like claiming The Simpsons is the longest-running animated TV series in the world, write the publication—not just the writer—and tell them about Sazae-san before you gripe to other animation fans. Mention the writer and the article by name. Express your distaste for a publication that allows easily verified misstatement to go unchecked. Do it well and your letter will get printed. Do it better and you might find yourself writing for them. But at the very least, you'll have added your voice to the chorus demanding that the art form we love be treated with respect.