Benjamin Ong Pang Kean: A Straight Up Buster?

Posted by on Monday, May 5th, 2008 at 09:45:59 PM

That’s a Fox News question, by the way. The answer is “Yeah, he is.”

Kean is in hot water right now in our little corner of the blogalaxy, and it’s all because of this (by way of Rich Johnston’s Lying in the Gutters):

Not Pictured: The Internet Cringing

The above is from the original version of this interview that he conducted with Marvel writer Paul Cornell about the upcoming Captain Britain and MI:13 book over at Newsarama, before either he or his bosses realized exactly what asking a question like that second one — let alone publishing it — said about them as a media outlet. To be fair, Newsarama has always needed a copy editing filter to go between their collective brain and mouth, but this isn’t some grammatical or syntactical miscue that someone should have caught before hitting the Post button — and Newsarama appears to recognize this on some level, because they’ve not only purged the above passage from the published interview, but also made a half-hearted attempted to get rid of the discussion about it in the following forum posts attached to the article. Unfortunately, as I’m sure they’re well aware, this is the Internet. It ain’t that easy.

To understand why this is such a big deal, you first have to understand what Newsarama is really about. They’re a news outlet in a sector of journalism with remarkably little hard news. They report on exclusives and signings and mergers and bankruptcies, to be sure, but that’s a very small part of their output. Due to the nature of the industry they work in and serve, Newsarama is much more geared towards promotional reportage, and like all other media outlets, lives and dies on how comprehensive and attractive their content package is, and since it’s a website, access is free. So Newsarama positions itself as the industry’s premier net news/advertisement hybrid (Wizard Magazine, of course, being the premier one in print): the majority of their content depends on having access to writers, editors, artists, and companies that see Newsarama as an ideal way of disseminating those things that they want readers to know. And this is done through press releases, previews, and interviews, for the most part. DC and Marvel and Image and all the rest don’t have to choose Newsarama as a privileged content provider; even before this most recent gaffe, Marvel was turning their focus away from Newsarama and was more and more doing business with CBR. And if the access dries up, then the community starts to go with it — and once the community’s gone, there’s not much left at all.

All of which brings us back to Benjamin Ong Pang Kean and his Captain Britain and MI:13 interview and his question about Faiza and jihad, which constituted a momentary but breathtaking lapse in judgment, especially considering the above. Kean’s job — and I say this in the nicest way possible — is to lob writers and editors softballs that let them comfortably explain their plans, on both the business and creative sides, in an uncontested environment where they shape the narrative and, if they so choose, interact with fans who want to see more (or less) of them. Let’s be honest: the closest Newsarama has ever come to hard-hitting journalism was when Matt Brady responded to every other thing Mike Carlin said in Counting Down with ellipses. And if Brady could hold his tongue when it came to Countdown, Kean should have been more than capable of showing the same reserve here. Make no mistake, Newsarama should give Kean his walking papers for the jihad comment, and they can take their pick of reasons why — because he asked a stupid, bigoted question to a Marvel writer in a relatively high-profile promotional piece; because he displayed the atrociously poor judgment of publishing that question and Cornell’s response to it, or because he actually thought that his casual slurring of British Muslims was funny in the first place — but the fact remains that he’s embarrassed Newsarama, Paul Cornell, Marvel, and most of all himself over something that could have oh-so-easily been avoided literally every step of the way.

So the best Kean can do is come out, apologize, and move on. Covering it up doesn’t help, and ignoring it doesn’t help, and the longer you do both, the stronger the stink it leaves. His bosses at Newsarama need to step up and shoulder this too, even if that just means Matt Brady puts out an apology in between spotlights on books like Helen Killer and blurbs about superhero movie trailers. It doesn’t say good things about the site’s usefulness as a promotional vendor if they can’t keep their writers from offending their major benefactors and a not-insubstantial portion of their reading audience.

Oh, and blogalaxy: I swear to God, if you ignore this in favor of another week bitching about how Brian Michael Bendis hates women, I will never speak to you again.

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