Fangoria Writer Responds to Fangoria.com Death

Meh

I was sent a link to a post on Facebook by James Zahn who wrote for Facebook and is a friend of Goon and mines. He is a writer who linked to our site and gave us props and made me say nice things about Fangoria. It seems perhaps I should have said nice things about James and not Fangoria itself. Here is what he writes un-edited from his facebook page

Over the past few days, my inboxes have been flooded with questions about the state and fate of FANGORIA. Through private emails, messages on Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace, I have been unable to avoid the barrage of questions, adding to what has otherwise been a very rough week. I had no intention of addressing this publicly, as I’m not a big fan of airing the ‘ol “dirty laundry” for all to see, but I guess this is the only way to end this once and for all.

First of all, I need to make clear that I quit FANGORIA almost a month ago. What has happened in the time since is mostly a mystery sans the bits and pieces that I’ve received second and third hand.

For much of the past month I’d been comfortably working on other projects, with Fango not even so much as crossing my mind. That changed last Friday when a couple of current staffers took it upon themselves to bash myself and others publicly on the FANGORIA RADIO show on Sirius/XM satellite radio in repeated, thinly veiled jabs devoid of using proper names, but easily deciphered by several within the listening audience.

By Saturday morning, apparently this behavior had struck a very wrong chord with many, including several key advertisers that had purchased placement within the FANGORIA brand. While I myself had received several inquiries met with the polite response that I was “no longer working with Fango”, I later found out second hand that things were not well in “The Land of Fang” as these same folks (and others) had reportedly threatened to pull support from the company after witnessing the radio shenanigans, on a show that some of these same advertisers had provided guests for.

While I was not necessarily “angry” by the statements made on the radio show, I must say that I was disappointed, though not at all surprised.

See, these type of statements are to be expected from folks with a history of bashing others, with targets ranging from both current and former employees and associates, competitors, and anyone else that seemingly refused to go along with the “high and mighty” law of Fango. Sadly, I must admit that I too was occasionally used as a pawn (along with others) in the same type of sad, sad, bullshit.

The “problems” with FANGORIA have been ongoing for almost a decade, with stories popping up every few years about “the demise of Fango”, etc. Regardless of the road bumps - three sets of owners since 2001, a bankruptcy, a warehouse fire - the brand has continued, with the magazine staying in continuous publication.

Prior to working for the company, I too was among the ranks of readers that had become critical of the mag and brand, bored with what had become a very stale, often outdated, and definitely overpriced brochure of hype for films that more often than not were not very good.

I admitted being critical of Fango in a January 2009 interview with Horror Society (
http://www.horrorsociety.com/2009/01/13/interview-james-zahn/) but also expressed my genuine enthusiasm for the opportunity to help revive a brand that I was a genuine fan of, and like so many other readers and creatives had grown up with. In that same piece I explained the somewhat convoluted way that I ended up within the Fango fold.

My position within the company was “Director of New Media Development”, a broad job title that essentially amounted to being a “jack of all trades” by the tail end of my run. Ideally, I would oversee the digital operations of the websites, social networks, etc. and bring in new opportunities for the company to achieve revenue and expand.

One thing that I never wanted to do was act as a “journalist” or be responsible for the posting of daily news, updates, etc. on the website. Early on, I made it very clear that I would not be reviewing films for the site or mag as I felt that my association and friendship (and sometimes enemy-ship) with so many people within the motion picture industry could be looked upon as a bias, and thus a conflict of interest. Sadly, several longtime Fango staffers had a completely opposite opinion (one I will address later).

In regards to the website itself, those that visited Fango prior to the Fall of 2008 will recall that it was a seldom-updated affair. On the best weeks, you were lucky to find a handful of news items, peppered with a couple reviews and perhaps a “fearful feature” here and there. It was never really addressed as to why this was, but the lack of attention to the online world is the exact reason why sites like Bloody-Disgusting, Dread Central, Horror-movies.ca, and more recently Fearnet, Horrorbid, and ShockTillYouDrop were able to so quickly thrive, survive, and eventually surpass Fangoria in providing readers with their daily horror fix - “daily” being key, as opposed to “monthly”.

I can’t address the circumstances or working conditions of the previous team that handled the web operations because I wasn’t there and did not witness them first-hand, but what I experienced in the roughly year-and-a-half I was there was an organization met with conflict as to how to embrace what was once “the future” and had quickly become “the present” as said “future” passed them by.

The magazine editors were resistant to change in every way possible. Any constructive criticism was met with conflict, argument, and eventually hit a wall. The idea of the magazine and website working together as a unified front became an increasingly distant pipedream as communication, ego, and personal differences continued to get in the way. Most competing websites, and later the staff of Fangoria.com were frowned upon by the magazine staff as “bloggers”, effectively looked at as “scum” not good enough to be considered proper “journalists” or “writers.” Fango stopped paying for most web content, which made certain features harder to come by, and thus led to some of those same “bloggers” stepping into the Fangoria.com fold as contributors.

Many of those same folks frowned upon by the staff of the magazine they grew up on and hoped to one day contribute to were met by ridicule upon their contributions to the site. Some excellent and very well-received features (such as Brad McHargue’s “The Importance of Horror Blogging”) were scoffed at for shedding light on “hacks and amateurs.”

One of the first lengthy pieces I’d written for Fango was an event report for the 2008 Music Box Massacre in Chicago. In the piece I highlighted the “community” aspect of the event, and pointed out the staffers from other sites including B-D, DC, and more in attendance. The fact that I’d linked to those sites was a major issue, as it was “a Fango no-no.” In addition, news items announcing non-Fango events and screenings were met with angry emails and phone calls to inform me that we couldn’t “promote non-Fango events due to agreements with other studios and partners”, when in reality the mag staff didn’t want to promote them due to their own personal interests and “beef.”

For those that doubt my claims about personal conflict and general unprofessional behavior, I ask you to locate a copy of FANGORIA #278 (November 2008) and open it to page 4 - the “Elegy”. In it you will find another not-so-subtle and not-so-thinly veiled jab at Fango’s #1 online competitor in a passage complaining about how the mag’s “six to eight week lead time” is affected by the fact that “we also have to compete with the internet…”

The jab? “One sleazy website (whose initials are BD)…”

After seeing such a thing in print, you can see why I was not at all surprised by being jabbed on last Friday’s installment of FANGORIA RADIO. Competition and differing opinion is simply not welcome.

One looming question about the magazine over the past year has been in regards to it’s content and cover design. Contrary to some of the rumblings, the magazine staff did not change. Same editors, many of the same contributors, and the same art director. The iconic “film strip” was aced by editor Tony Timpone, who later admitted this on the now-AWOL Fango forums. The company logo underwent a slight modernization and was overwhelmingly well-received despite a few who didn’t like it. The rest of the mag was slated to undergo a much-needed overhaul to bring it into the present, and to better compete with the beautifully designed Canadian competitor RUE-MORGUE. As months passed, the covers got worse and the interior of the mag remained in the same outdated state that it’s been in for many years.

Upon seeing the cover to Fango #286, I told the editors that I felt it was the worst cover in the mags 30-year history. Readers felt the same, and quickly took to the message boards to express their disgust. Not one to blindly “tow the company line”, I responded on the boards and agreed. I also whipped up an alternate mock-up in less than 30 minutes to show how easily the problem could be corrected. Timpone went bonkers. Calls and emails, later followed by addressing the issue on a company conference call for “going against our efforts”, which was also the EXACT same statement he’d make about anyone, anywhere that spoke ill of Fango, constructively or not. The funny thing is, I didn’t work for Tony, I was a FREELANCE, INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR for FANGORIA. Though he’d often lead others to assume otherwise, Tony was an EMPLOYEE of the company, in the position of Editor-in-Chief of the MAGAZINE.

For the past several months prior to January, EVERYTHING you saw on Fangoria.com or Starlog.com was posted by ME. Regardless of author, all of the actual (often labor-intensive) posting was done by me, right here at this desk. I’d get the text sent in, then have to locate photos, resize them, watermark if needed, and layout the articles. All of the background graphics for the site including the advertising “reskins” (when the whole site would be taken over for a DVD or film release) were put together, designed, and implemented by yours truly. This meant going back and forth with our ad sales rep and doing multiple changes/adjustments to please clients, and later swapping out date-specific image components during the time a campaign was running (Out Friday, Out Tomorrow, Now Playing, etc). In addition, we’d reached a point where the “daily film news” which was to be provided by Managing Editor Michael Gingold had stopped coming in. Mike simply stopped contributing, so someone had to step in and start fielding the press releases, talk to filmmakers, and get the news out there. Who had to do it? Once again, me.

If not for the birth of my daughter, I would’ve jumped ship months ago. I politely kept quiet, and just kept doing my job, simply due to the extra money that it provided - money that I used to establish a savings account in her name.

It reached a point where my daily life was being consumed by Fangoria. Working literally ‘round the clock for the same money, doing multiple jobs, and dealing with increasing back-stabbing and verbal abuse had taken it’s toll. I was losing time to spend with my (now 6-month old) daughter, my wife, and the rest of my friends and family. Any time to work on creative projects (acting, music, and screenwriting) was gone. The breaking point was nearing…

There were bright spots along the way, but just when it looked like things were going to change for the better, someone would manage to step in and fuck it up - largely due once again to ego. Like a season of SURVIVOR, “alliances” were formed, lines were drawn, and sides were taken.

Some may ask why I’d been hit with all the daily posting duty, and the answer to that can be described in one word: Nepotism.

It had been decided by the President of the company that all of the posting should go through one person to filter the amount of shameless plugs for projects done by friends of the “Fango Family.” As I promised earlier in this blog, I’m now addressing that others had a completely different outlook when it came to “conflict of interest.”

FANGORIA has been ripped on by readers of both the magazine and website for it’s seemingly biased reviews/recommendations and extensive coverage of films that quite frankly, just aren’t very good - many of which have never, nor ever will be available for mass consumption. The reason? If you’re friends with one of the editors, it’s really easy to get coverage.

I’m not going to call out any filmmakers, because quite frankly, I don’t blame them for doing whatever they have to for coverage. I blame the editors for their lack of ethics, and for their inability to wake up and give their readers what they want to read - as opposed to page upon page of garbage about garbage.

One of the editors (feel free to speculate) is particularly to blame for this. He’d been called out in the comments sections of several online articles he’d written (comments that I was often asked to remove), and when confronted with said accusations would become angry and belligerent.

While “friendship” (how many friends would he really have if he wasn’t an editor of a horror mag) is a big part of this, I’ll also say that it’s poor ethics to write about or to assign articles about films you’re personally involved without full disclosure. Said projects would be better included in the “Contributor’s Crypt”, or just come out and admit you’re involved with them. If you’re IN the movie, the ethical line is questionable. If you WROTE the movie, the ethical line is questionable.

And periodically, those same films would find their creators becoming contributors to Fango, further blurring things.

One such instance occurred last fall when said editor submitted a piece that started off “Independent filmmaker (name withheld) gave Fango the scoop…” , followed by a DVD review just an hour later that was written by the exact filmmaker mentioned in the previous article. No mention in either piece that there was an association. In addition to being ethically questionable, it’s just plain tacky.

If you dig hard enough, you will find a few little “cliques” of filmmakers with massive personal ties to the Fango staff. You’d have to dig even harder to actually locate one of their films for viewing, but I’ll bet you can find plenty of “Monster Invasion” articles, set reports, and reviews to tell you just how great they are, while every other horror outlet on the planet gives you the straight dirt on what a piece of shit they really are. After all, there’s probably more review copies floating around than actual copies sold in some cases.

The FANGORIA RADIO show is no different, with a long history of operating as what sometimes seems to be a massive shill for whatever project the hosts have recently been working on. Even on the recording I have from last Friday’s show, you have to sit through at least 20 minutes of babble regarding what the hosts are up to before you get to anything of interest. A three-hour snooze fest as usual, though I do like Producer/Director Chris Moore who was a guest on there. Browse the entire archive, a partial selection of which is on iTunes, and you’ll notice a pattern: People that work with the hosts on films are guests A LOT.

So you have to question, are these people in the close circle of friends always promoted because they’re friends - or is that just the best the Fango staff can do? Either way it’s a sad state of affairs.

While I could go on for ages, with enough material for a book (perhaps I should write one?) about how both Fango and Starlog have been run into the fucking ground by the very people that should’ve had the most vested interest in saving them, the final thing I will address is the rumors of non-payment to writers of the print magazine. Last year, GAWKER named “Print’s Ten Worst Late Payment Offenders” (
http://gawker.com/5182487/prints-ten-worst-late-payment-offenders) with Fango making the list. While some were paid, others were not. It’s like trying to put a band-aid on a knife wound - it just isn’t gonna hold. As I type this I’m informed of a couple of telling Tweets posted by longtime UK contributor Alan Jones (http://twitter.com/alanfrightfest). Yes, people are owed money - and it seems like a lot of it. In the meantime, they’ll likely find some other sad sacks willing to work for nothing, just for a chance to say they work for “Fangoria”. Perhaps they’ll be given a fancy, yet meaning less “associate producer” title like some of the other unpaid interns Fango has slaving for them in NYC.

So is FANGORIA over? I honestly don’t know. I suspect they’ll limp along in one form or another for a little while, then completely disappear or possibly be purchased by someone else. Hopefully that someone actually has the balls to do what needs to be done and start cleaning house.

Just remember that not long ago when “Wall Street” collapsed, several firms (including a few right across the street from Fango’s NYC office), quietly made plans to close up shop as their employees stood waiting for their checks while smiling men in bad suits told them “It’s ok, just give us a little bit more time. You’ll be paid. We’ll still be around!”

While others were made to financially suffer, those men in bad suits made off with their money, and a lot of them weren’t owners of their companies either.

Ponder that.

James is a classy guy and if we actually were a big operation we would have him writing for us in a heart beat. From reading his post that he made on facebook I gotta say I have lost a lot of respect for Fangoria and what little they think of us horror bloggers and fans!

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