As Comic Con wound down, former SDCCBlog.com writer Sarah Mertan wrote a personal blog with allegations that blog staff had manipulated early Hall H lines for their own benefit.
Hall H, the largest panel room of San Diego Comic Con, has become the primary example of the size of the country’s largest pop culture convention. Seating over 6,000 people, it regularly hosts the largest movie studios and films. This year, for example, both Warner Bros. and Marvel Comics revealed major announcements for their anticipated superhero franchises.
Due to the popularity of these panels, some attendees will camp overnight in order to secure a spot to see their favorite stars. On Friday night, the line for Saturday’s entrance wrapped to the backside of the Marriott Marquis and Marina.
As the convention grows in popularity, several issues have been created with it. This year, in order to manage the Hall H lines, Comic Con International distributed wristbands to eager participants as a way of noting a spot in an official line. When wristband distribution failed to go as planned, several “unofficial” lines were formed and allegations of line manipulation by the press started.
Sarah Mertan, founder of blog ConShark.com, claims that staff members of the popular Unofficial SDCC Blog withheld information given to them by security and pushed for their line to be made the “official” one.
“When others brought up the unsanctioned line with security, it is my understanding that blog staff personally advocated for the lines to become sanctioned by security,” Mertan wrote in her blog.
“The Unofficial Blog was intentionally silent on this issue simply because it benefited them personally.”
The SDCCBlog Twitter page did announce they were talking with Hall H line campers about the situation and handing out blog merchandise. However, Editor-In-Chief Jeremy Rutz insists that they were covering the line ethically and responsibly.
“We pushed for some official line for those who were already in line, as well as to avoid an incident because all 3 lines we’re being told same and were starting to get angry. We pushed for consolidation and official line,” Rutz said in a Twitter interview.
“I was not in a line. I didn’t even go in Hall H on Saturday. But I visited the line once it was official and James (Riley, SDCCBlog Reporter) got in. We argued for ANY solution rather than none. We didn’t care which. That’s not in violation of ethics, which we follow [Society of Professional Journalists] as guidelines.”
(The Society of Professional Journalists has standardized ethical codes of conduct for journalists, such as “Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two” and “Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.”)
Such a conflict over something like panel lines could grow to become more serious in future years. They highlight a trend towards the growing size of the convention and the problems that may stem from a stressed San Diego.
According to figures from Nerdist.com, the convention has spiked in attendance over the last decade, going from a bust convention of about 70,000 in 2003 to capping attendance for nearly eight years straight. The spike and growth in popularity is largely attributed to the addition of panels for the Twilight film series.
In addition to the official convention cap of roughly 130,000 attendees the Gaslamp Quarter of downtown San Diego has also begun hosting a variety of events for visitors with or without SDCC badges. NerdHQ from Zachary Levi and Felicia Day’s Geek and Sundry locations showcase a variety of options for visitors entering the city in July.
With such an explosive growth in a decade, some are left wondering about the city’s ability to handle the large crowds, as well as the credibility of the press covering it.
The annual Comic Con convention draws a host of coverage from venues around the world, including LA Times Hero Complex, CNN, and Aljazeera. However, some holders of Press badges are bloggers, enthusiasts, and website owners with little-to-no experience in formal journalism writing.
With convention and gaming journalism such a new and growing field, little oversight has been taken to ensure proper reporting. For example, a 2012 critique on the state of video game press by Robert Florence of Eurogamer.net led to a controversy covered by major outlets such as Forbes that stirred negativity towards gaming and “nerd” journalism.
As for SDCC itself, its growing pains have an even larger, immediate impact. With its lease of the San Diego Convention Center due to run out in 2016, many speculate whether it will remain home in San Diego or move to a larger city. With convention attendees alone pumping over $177 million into the city this year, according to KUSI, a move could be a critical change for San Diego.
A planned expansion of the convention center is due to begin groundbreaking late this year, according to the Port of San Diego, but the question of how to pay for the expansion is currently working its way through the court system, possibly pushing the beginning phases until next year.
“An expanded facility is a good proposition for San Diego,” Comic Con spokesman David Glanzer said in an October interview with the LA Times.
Pressures from competing cities like Las Vegas and Los Angeles to capture the coveted annual event could leave fans with a changing venue if the expansion fails to materialize.
A Facebook page entitled “Keep Comic Con in San Diego” emphasizes fans’ desires to keep the convention in the San Diego harbor. It currently has over 19,000 likes.
In any case, San Diego Comic Con shows little signs of slowing down. Whatever the future of the convention center and gaming press, attendees are likely to see lines continue to stretch for over a mile around the embarcadero behind the convention, an event all within itself.