Contextualizing Hobart Pulp
Understanding and improving trends in online publishing
Welcome to our weekly column offering perspectives on lit mag publishing, with contributions from readers, writers and editors around the world.
The recent Hobart Pulp interview of Alex Perez led to a social media furor rife with differing opinions about its contents.  This essay, however, is not intended to rehash the contents of that interview or the opinions of others. Rather, the intent is to first outline the basic contours of the event itself. Next, situate it within a larger online publishing context. And finally, explore two questions I believe online publishers and writers alike might do well to consider in relation to the practices of so-called “rehoming,” “dogpiles,” and online smear campaigns.
The basic contours of the Hobart Pulp interview and its fallout are as follows. On September 29, 2022, Hobart published an interview conducted by its Editor-in-Chief, Elizabeth Ellen, with the writer, Alex Perez.  Twelve days later, on October 11, 2022, a viral tweet by a former contributor first drew negative attention to the interview.  As online chatter ensued, a disjuncture between the values expressed by Ellen and Perez and that of Hobart’s contributors became increasingly evident.  The next day, both the journal’s staff and founder offered their public resignations. 
Meanwhile, past contributors to Hobart Pulp began publicly requesting their work be removed from the site. [Sample: 9] Such voluntary requests for removal were made en masse once it became clear the EIC was not apologetic about her decision to publish the interview.  In concert with such requests for voluntary removal, numerous other journals began offering to “rehome”/reprint work previously published at Hobart Pulp. 
Placing this event in a broader context, it is first worth noting that unlike traditional print publishing, online publishing is marked by impermanence. For instance, online journals routinely shutter, leaving writers’ work flushed down the proverbial memory hole. Add to that, it is not uncommon for publishers to willingly “deplatform” otherwise inoffensive work based on a writer’s alleged actions.  Meanwhile, on rare occasions, work is removed by publishers due to its perceived offensiveness by social media users. 
Herein, an important distinction becomes evident. Namely, that the main aim of deplatforming in the former case is to blacklist a writer; in the latter case, to censor their work. That such blacklisting and censorship is more bottom-up and community-based when compared to top-down governmental and corporate practices makes it no less pernicious.
The impermanence of online publishing also engenders social contagion when an editorial misstep and/or other negative behavior—be it real or perceived—results in mass requests for the voluntary removal of previously published work.  Granted, this appears to be a rare phenomenon . . . at least for now. Though, the underlying potential for such social contagion snowballing is ever present. Reason being, writers who are also online publishers are certainly not beyond demanding their work be removed from a competitor’s site, while simultaneously offering other contributors the option to “rehome” their work on the platform they host.  Further amplifying this underlying potential for social contagion, the ever-increasing willingness of literary journals to “rehome” previously published work, thus easing any ambivalent writer’s concerns to not act in solidarity with their peers should a journal face social media backlash. 
Online publishers should thus take note of this small but growing market of literary journals that actively seek to “rehome” work, regardless of whether they do so as a general or episodic practice. For, what it illustrates is the impermanence of online publishing not only has an inherently ephemeral quality, but a migratory one, as well. One which both writers and competing journals can capitalize on when a platform comes under scrutiny for its editorial decisions and/or the actions of its staff.
Online publishers should also note, the practice of “rehoming” represents a nexus where allyship and opportunism in independent publishing converge. Though seemingly altruistic on its surface, in cases where mass voluntary withdrawal occurs, its predatory nature becomes evident. In such instances, competing EICs not only earn the gratitude of writers who are disillusioned with a publisher that is now deemed “problematic,” but they also earn increased clout and status as the curators of perceived “safe spaces.” Add to that, they garner a store of previously peer-reviewed work to promote, thus increasing both their audience and their contributor base.
Bear in mind that no journal, regardless of its relative status within the larger indie lit ecosystem, is immune from potentially becoming the next Hobart Pulp for a real or perceived misstep. Herein, some examples of journals that precede Hobart Pulp in facing the collective ire of their literary peers include Anti-Heroin Chic,  Clarkesworld,  Journal Mag,  The Nation,  Poetry,  Rattle,  and Rust + Moth.  Such examples are not even close to exhaustive, but rather represent a small sample of outlets that have at one time or another been labeled “problematic.”
The reasons these journals and/or the writers they published were deemed “problematic” vary. So too, the veracity of the accusations or criticisms made against them. Yet, one common denominator among them all is they faced mob-like collective reactions (i.e. “dogpiles”) and/or targeted smear campaigns by their online publishing peers which were all grossly overblown. And, in at least the cases of Anti-Heroin Chic, Clarkesworld Magazine, Poetry, and Rust + Moth, the accusations made against the publishers and/or authors they published were utterly lacking in merit. 
Another common denominator: rarely do publications made subject to such dogpiles or smear campaigns epitomize the Right-wing reactionary forces that one might expect would be the targets of such ostensibly “social justice” based campaigns. Rather, the journals themselves more often than not have a left-leaning orientation, while overall, most are relatively benign in terms of the content they publish. Strikingly, however, none of this gives online publishers and the writers who participate in blacklists pause, be such lists public or private, impromptu or well organized. 
Operating in such a treacherous climate, online publishers are left to try and balance their own freedom of the press to publish who and what they choose, the freedom of expression of the writers they publish, and the freedom of (dis)association of their contributors. Thus, one basic question for online publishers becomes how to more adequately balance the freedoms of all these aforementioned stakeholders while simultaneously protecting their own platforms against social media assault by both competing journals who indulge in smear campaigns and writers/former contributors who participate in mob-like, collective action. For less established journals this question is especially cogent, as any such collective action that results in mass voluntary withdrawal can potentially mean the dismantling and shuttering of a platform that will leave a publisher’s more loyal contributor base deplatformed by default.
One remedy for avoiding such a scenario is fairly easy to employ, I believe. It involves publishers protecting themselves and the writers they publish via publication rights. Namely, regardless of any other publication rights they might seek to secure (e.g. First Serial, First Electronic, One Time, etc.), online publishers should seriously consider accepting Archival Rights over all work published. And, with the exception of plagiarized work, enforce this publication right, most especially in the face of any collective demands a writer’s work be removed, and/or collective demands for the voluntary withdrawal of published work by former contributors.
In such cases—just as with print publishing—a publisher’s right to disassociate from a former contributor would be limited to barring them from any future publication opportunity at their site. Similarly, a disgruntled former contributor’s recourse to disassociate would be limited to no longer participating in the platform as a subscriber, reader, and/or future contributor.
By accepting Archival Rights, what a publisher will be signaling to contributors is that their work will not be subject to deplatforming, nor will they as publishers be subject to voluntary withdrawal, most especially large-scale voluntary withdrawals demanded as retribution by their own contributors for real or perceived misdeeds. Meanwhile, by enforcing Archival Rights, the publisher’s freedom to publish and the freedom of expression of other writers will be more easily preserved, even in the face of collective pressure by other disgruntled and self-interested parties who may seek to dismantle what the publisher and their more loyal contributor base have sought to build.
This will, of course, not spare a publisher from being blacklisted by their peers, which will happen regardless of whether they acquiesce to mass voluntary withdrawal requests or not. But, it will potentially spare their other contributors from having their work flushed down the proverbial memory hole due to their peers’ perceived high-mindedness, should their need for retribution threaten to gut the platform and render any future financial upkeep and maintenance fruitless.
A second more complex question is what, if anything, can be done in regard to the broader issues addressed in this essay involving dogpiling and smear campaigns. Here, I believe any remedy is multi-faceted and none too easy to employ. Moreover, I believe any such remedy would necessarily be more rehabilitative than mitigatory, given the largely organic nature of such online practices, most especially dogpiling. With that in mind, I would ultimately suggest any remedy would involve organizing both willing former targets and other concerned parties who desire to no longer play the role of passive bystander to develop awareness-raising campaigns that aim to undo the reputational damage suffered by targets.
If your own personal awareness regarding the damage to individual reputations and psyches caused by these online campaigns is limited, then I’d ask you please read James Diaz’ Testimonial, which was previously promoted by Becky in her newsletter.  Likewise, I would ask you consider reviewing the evidence Michael Schmeltzer has made public surrounding the online harassment he suffered , along with the manner in which he sought to rally community support  when the EIC of Glass Poetry caved to both public and private demands to deplatform his poem, “Moon and moon and moon.” 
Though merely anecdotal, a thorough review of the receipts included in both James’ testimonial and Michael’s FB slideshow, will, I believe, help a reader to more concretely understand the damage online dogpiling and smear campaigns can render. For, in my heart of hearts, what I truly believe is stories such as James’ and Michael’s need to be shared. Yet, those who share them very much need in return to be assured they’ve some community-oriented support and defense, should they be attacked for speaking out.
In closing, what I’ve attempted to outline in this essay is the recent fallout from the Hobart Pulp interview with Alex Perez is symptomatic of much larger interrelated trends in contemporary online publishing. Such interrelated trends are borne of both the impermanent and migratory nature of the medium itself. While the impermanent nature of the medium allows for deplatforming as a means to blacklist or censor, the migratory nature of the medium allows for the so-called “rehoming” of work from journals labeled “problematic” to those deemed “safe” via individual or collective voluntary withdrawal. All such practices are largely driven by collective outbursts on social media in the form of “dogpiles,” along with targeted smear campaigns of both publishers and writers by their peers. And, in at least some cases, the accusations made are completely lacking in merit, and unfairly damaging to the reputations of those targeted.
All that in mind, I’d be interested to read any comments below relative to what has been discussed, though most especially as regards participation in the organizing of awareness-raising campaigns for those most ill-affected by these troubling trends. Thank you for reading.
So, I opted to wait to comment 'til it appeared others had had their say about my essay. As the number of comments have remained at a total of 37 for a good number of hours, I think now is a good time to offer my own follow-up thoughts.
First, I want to thank the majority of folks for whom the essay resonated and also those few who were less than enthused. The reason I thank both groups is because if anything, I think the essay served to be something of an ice-breaker in terms of discussing some of the negative behaviors we all witness in online spaces among writers and publishers alike.
Next, I want to remind that larger group for whom the essay resonated of the old Chinese proverb, "It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness." I remind you of that because while I understand much of the frustration expressed in your comments, the proverbial darkness surrounding dogpiles, smear campaigns, false accusations, and damaged reputations is going to continue to exist. Reason being, social media is anarchic, and when it comes to online mobs, there is no central authority to appeal to for redress.
Recognizing that fact, the way I've chosen to light a candle is not simply to have written the essay above. I also host the On the Record blog, where James Diaz' Testimonial is archived. If you're a writer or publisher who's been the target of a dogpile and/or smear campaign where your peers have defamed and libeled you, then I am more than willing to try and help you, should you wish. And, I will do so free of charge.
How can I help you? I can help you to collect, organize, and analyze the “receipts” of any dogpile and/or smear campaign to which you’ve been subjected. And, to aid you in composing an argument that pushes back against any lies your peers told about you, and/or illogical arguments they made against you. Such a testimonial can be shared with individual writers or publishers should they come to you with questions based on rumors or gossip they heard. Or, it can be shared online via social media if deemed necessary to more publicly counter your detractor(s), most especially if they seek to continue (or resume) their smear campaign against you.
Please note, I understand how collecting, organizing, and analyzing such data about yourself can be triggering. As such, I can do as much or as little as you wish in terms of interacting with such derisive materials. I can also serve as a sounding board for sorting through all the myriad accusations and claims made against you in order to focus on those which are at the heart of the smear you suffered. In so doing, I can help to restore at least *some* of that sense of Self you had before your peers screwed with both your head and your reputation, and also provide you with something tangible to push back against any continued campaigning on their part.
With all that in mind, if you've been a target of an online dogpile and/or smear campaign and feel a testimonial would help you, then I can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BAD_ACID_LABS
I’ll add, in the closing paragraph of the “Contextualizing Hobart Pulp,” I asked those who are tired of being passive bystanders and might wish to participate in awareness raising campaigns for their thoughts. But, the only two people in the comments who shared their thoughts on that matter was James Diaz and Alina Stefanescu.
This, I will admit, was a tad disappointing. Though, I’ll acknowledge the lack of curiosity related to what an awareness raising campaign might look like could at least be in part due to the open-ended manner in which I posed the question. And, little concrete detail as to what such an awareness raising campaign might entail, beyond my offering James’ testimonial and Michael Schmeltzer's FB slideshow as suggested reading.
Here, I think the question is, how might you light a candle? First, consider taking your primary focus off those who do the targeting and place it instead on those who've been targeted. For, the latter group is far and away more important than the former from an ethical perspective. Moreover, from a practical standpoint, it’s far easier to help one who’s been targeted than it is to change the collective behavior of a group of bullies.
Next, consider speaking up for those who’ve been targeted. Speaking up can be as simple as posting a testimonial on your social media platform, should a target desire such aid in order to help them rewrite the false narrative others have composed about them. Becky did that for James when she promoted their testimonial recently on this very Substack, as did Misery Tourism when they replatformed some of James’ poetry. If you’re a writer and/or publisher, others might need similar help from you promoting their stories or deplatformed work in the future. (And, you never know. You yourself might need such help in the future.)
If you wish to be an active bystander in pushing back against those cases where the Wisdom of the Crowd turns out to not be any too wise, then you can reach me at the same email address or Twitter handle I left earlier in this comment. Beyond building a pool of participants potentially willing to post any future testimonials, I'd also certainly appreciate volunteer help from anyone with a social science background in qualitative research to aid in collecting, organizing, and coding materials such as tweets and Facebook posts, should the need arise. For, I sense there’s a very good chance that need will arise.
If you have any related experience, I’d be glad to hear from you. Hell, if you have no experience at all, but wish to learn some basics in terms of conducting qualitative research and utilizing the findings to perform victim advocacy relative to online bullying, I’d also be glad to hear from you.
On that note, take care.
An element missing from this fantastic write up is that in the current climate where most literature exists in a closed-world community of other writers, the lack of external measures of success means that gaining "clout" functions more like high school cliques than like any meaningful engagement between writers and critics.