Open Letter to the Mainstream Media: How to Cover Star Wars News

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Hello, mainstream media. It’s me, Eric. Since you’ve already started writing a lot of stories about Star Wars, I thought it would be a good idea for us to clarify a few things. Some of your reporters may have never seen a Star Wars movie, but they still ought to employ proper journalistic skills in covering developments pertaining to the franchise. Let’s review a few of the do’s and don’ts so that you don’t have to make embarrassing mistakes and I don’t have to go on Twitter and criticize and/or mock you (usually both).

Do...

Double-check your spelling, grammar, and formatting. Club Jade’s Star Wars style guide is a thorough, excellent resource, but I want to highlight a few exceptionally annoying mistakes. First, it’s not Wookie like cookie; it’s Wookiee, with an extra “e.” The omission of an article can mean the difference between referring to an ongoing animated TV show (Star Wars: The Clone Wars) and referring to a decade-old show set in the same timeframe (Star Wars: Clone Wars). Here’s one that really grinds my gears: It’s not LucasFilm, LucasFilms, or Lucas Films; it’s Lucasfilm, with a lower-case “f,” no space, and no “s” at the end. Speaking of which, LucasArts (emphasis added) is the video game publishing arm of Lucasfilm and is not responsible for making any decisions about the new Star Wars films. Which brings us to…

Verify your facts. You don’t want to end up like The Associated Press, which published a story that said that Episode VII was “set for a 2014 release” when the actual projected release year is 2015. This is especially important given your status as respected, enduring journalistic institutions. When the AP says something, I tend to believe it until I’m told otherwise. Fans jumped at the AP’s story because some of them thought that the release of Episode VII had been moved up a year. If you make that kind of mistake, it will light a firestorm among Star Wars fans for absolutely no reason, and I’d rather not have to sit through that again.

Try to get a fan perspective. All of you have deadlines. I understand that. However, it is always nice to see comments from members of the fan community in your articles. Even if you don't end up using most (or any) of the material that you gather from interviewing a fan, you'll be better-informed personally as a result of the conversation. You might even learn something that will help you write your next Star Wars-related article. If you're an entertainment reporter and you find yourself covering Star Wars on a regular basis during this new Sequel Trilogy era, talking to fans can make your job a whole lot easier. Think of Star Wars fans as a vast, diverse resource into which you can tap for both your article and your personal edification.
 

Don’t...

Make assumptions about fans or fan opinions.
That Star Wars fans are not all single male nerds living in our parents’ basements should be so obvious as to not require even a passing reminder. (And yet here I go reminding you. I’m not taking any chances.) Suffice it to say that the Star Wars fan community, like any other group of people united by a common interest, is diverse enough to contain all types. True, some of us give the rest of the community a bad name. But most of us are mature, respectable, responsible human beings who don't let our passion for Star Wars consume us, even if we do let it define part of who we are.

Demographic stereotyping is bad, but how you characterize fans is actually less important and potentially harmful than how you characterize fan opinion. These days, most rational people realize that pejorative definitions of "nerds" and "geeks," with their connotations of anti-social behavior and an unhealthy fixation, are inaccurate. As unacceptable as it is, ill-informed journalists stereotyping us is no longer our main concern. The more damaging mistake you can make involves stereotyping what we think about the Star Wars franchise.

To my knowledge, no one has ever conducted a survey of the entire population of Star Wars fans, nor has anyone ever taken a scientifically rigorous poll of Star Wars fans. With that in mind, it would be irresponsible of you to make any statement in your article that either implies or outright asserts that most fans disliked, or were disappointed by, the Prequel Trilogy (Episodes I, II, and III). Such a claim would be unsubstantiated, and unsubstantiated claims especially when they’re also inflammatory contribute nothing to the business of reporting the news. Just because you hated the Prequels, just because eight of your friends also hated the Prequels, doesn’t mean that most people hated the Prequels.

Overdose on the clichés and puns. Each of your newsrooms gets to write three headlines per month containing some variation of either “The Force is with [X]” or “[X] Strikes Back.” Use them wisely.

***

If you read and understood all of these tips, you can proceed with confidence. Your articles about Star Wars won't make me want to gouge out my eyeballs in frustration. Considering how critical I am of mainstream media writers covering Star Wars news, that's really saying something.
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4 comments:

  1. Great article. One thing with the press that annoys me is the constant unverified source. So many times we get the phrase "A source tells us." Who is this source? Your resident Star Wars fan in the office? Its amazing how these articles with their magic source always seems to appear the day after some big news such as Disney buying out Lucasfilm and JJ Abrams directing Star Wars VII. The day after both we had one story saying Darth Vader is returning and another saying Star Wars is to begin filming in the UK in the summer. Obviously blatant tactics to sell more newspapers.


    I do wish the puns would stop too.


    Rob

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  2. Great tips. Contrary to what some may think perhaps, keeping our readers informed about the star wars universe is difficult. Information with credibility and really bring that information and not just rumors and speculation is surely one of the greatest difficulties. During my 9 years holding a news site on the saga for fans in Brazil, maintain their integrity and not use piracy as attractive content, just to generate "pageviews" unlike some supposed fan sites is another challenge.

    I believe that Lucasfilm could someday publish guidelines about what is allowed and what is not allowed to do regarding the Star Wars brand.

    Sometimes we make mistakes by simple ignorance. But surely, good fans want to do more and better.

    Again, thanks for the tips. May the Force be with us all.

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  3. One other good tip for the media is that if you are going to interview fans at a convention: not all Star War fans are into costuming. Sure, you can obviously identify the people who dress up as Star Wars characters as Star Wars fans. But also look for those sporting Star Wars on their shirts, bags, etc. Costuming is only one aspect of fandom (Star Wars or otherwise) - Star Wars fans come in a wide variety of stripes, in many ages and from many walks of life!

    There are fans who are just into the movies (or just some of the movies), and fans who are into Star Wars video gaming, and others who are into costuming, or reading the novels and comics, or collecting action figures, or collecting other Star Wars mechandise, or creating their own Star Wars stories (fan fiction, fan films, etc), those into board/card/role-playing games, knowing tons of trivia, playing with toys, connecting with other fans (clubs, conventions, fan sites), etc.

    Also, the big split between sci-fi fans around "Star Wars vs Star Trek" -- that really doesn't exist anymore.

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  4. Good job Eric, you're keeping the mainstream media on their toes with some very sound journalistic advice and building credibility within the industry at the same time. One thing that really irritates me is when media pundits fail to recognise the good positive work done by industry leaders like George Lucas and are quick to knock them down. That is quite frankly the cheapest trick in the book.

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