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This is not some obscure sex blog, either. (But so what if it was?)

Violet Blue is pissed off:

This is not some obscure sex blog.

Who has unashamedly, happily (even proudly) linked to Tiny Nibbles from a mainstream site? Sex sites aside, here is a list that reveals why anyone who says they must obfuscate linking to my website for whatever (read: moral) reasons are no longer part of the modern media mindset regarding web standards:

Forbes, CNN, Google Inc. (as a 2x Tech Talk speaker), Web MD, MSNBC, cNet, ZDnet, Globe and Mail, RH Reality Check (UN sponsored health news outlet), BBC, New York Times, SF Chronicle/SF Gate, Gawker, Wonkette, Defamer, Gizmodo, (YES) Boing Boing, Laughing Squid, Oprah, ETech (proudly on the front page with photo), Wall Street Journal (same), South By Southwest (interactive and film), Mediabistro, Adrants, LA SF and Gothamist, Technorati (with photo, remember them?), Wired (many times), American weeklies like Villiage Voice + SF Bay Guardian + Seattle’s Stranger + LA Weekly + SF Weekly, LA Times, Webnation, Chicago Tribune, SJ Mercury News, The Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, Attack of the Show, Newsweek, PBS Mediashift, CBS Healthwatch, National Public Radio (NPR), CJR (Columbia Journalism Review)… and more second tier news/media outlets. Links are available upon request.

These people have all, and currently from the features, speaking engagements and media items, all link to this website. I’ve kept quiet about these bragging rights. But times have changed. Don’t tell me it’s an issue to link here, or show that you do. If so — you’re clearly not paying attention. And old media is leaving you in the dust.

Get over it, and welcome to global consciousness about human sexuality.

I know just how Violet feels. In 2007 I was pissed off and hurt when PBS refused a link to ComstockFilms.com on a story they did about the Great Google Bug, a story we broke in late 2006. Here’s our post about the Google Bug (Will Google Kill Comstock Films?) Here’s the PBS story (Google Search Snafu Can Have Huge Impact on Niche Blogs), and here’s me venting my frustration and hurt feelings (PBS Disappears Sex Links?) The gist of my ire was that while the story was picked up by Boing Boing, The New York Post, Search Engine Land and a few other places, PBS stood alone in refusing a link to our site. From my blog:

Perhaps it’s just an oversight. I hope so, but ten years’ experience of trying to bring the best of what I have, as a filmmaker and as a human being, to the depiction of sex makes me doubt that’s the reason that the PBS article doesn’t link to Comstock Films.

We’ve had printers refuse to print our inserts and posters because they were “pornographic”. I had my words used without attribution, let alone a link. Hell, I’ve even had a government ban one of my films from an entire continent.

So when PBS runs a story that started with a post that I made on my blog, and then doesn’t even link to my blog, it doesn’t surprise me. Am I disappointed? Yes. But surprised? No.

This is par for the course. Last month CNN re-ran Violet Blue’s 2007 Oprah article about “porn for women” and linked to a Christian sleep-away camp for grown-ups, but couldn’t bring themselves to link to Comstock Films or Marie Beatty’s site, both of which were also mentioned in the article.

This past Spring I had to virtually bully one of our films into the Sex Positive Documentary Film Series at the University of Illinios at Chicago because the series’ curator was worried she’d get in trouble if she showed a sex positive documentary film that actually showed sex.  Just like Violet’s post, I dumped a credentials avalanche on the series curator to show that I wasn’t just “some obscure sex film maker.” It all turned out okay in the end; the film was a big hit with the audience, and there were no negative repercussion for the series organizers, but the experience left me drained and discouraged.

And last year, on Christmas Day, I got to see our Penis/Clitoris Google SafeSearch research called out on Violet Blue’s San Francisco Chronicle column with links to people writing about my discovery, but without a link back to my original post.

Like I said, it’s par for the course. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt my feelings every time it happens. And as readers here know, when I get hurt, I get angry. And when I get angry, I write a letter. Here’s the letter I wrote to The Chronicle, including the preamble I was going to put in the accompanying blog post:

So Much For San Francisco Values (An Open Letter to Frank J. Vega, Publisher and President of  The San Francisco Chronicle)

Long time readers may recall that this blog broke the Great Googlebug story of late 2006 with our post “Will Google Kill Comstock Films?” The story was picked up by BoingBoing, SearchEngineLand, The New York Post, and PBS (through it’s SF affiliate KQED,) and several other. Of the websites that picked up the story, PBS was alone in its decision not to link to ComstockFilms.com. The explanation from PBS/KQED (delivered without irony) was that if their readers *really* wanted to find Comstock Films, they could google it…

Late this year we broke another Google related story with the post Penis vs. Clitoris. The story was picked up by Susie Bright, WebproNews, and just last week, the San Francisco Chronicle (through Violet Blue’s column.) And once again, the San Francisco news outlet separates itself from the pack by refusing to link to our site. I’ve already spoken with Violet about this. Apparently as far as her editors at the Chronicle are concerned, we’re to consider ourselves lucky that they’ve even printed our URL, as other sites that Violet has referred to in her column haven’t even been granted that (second-rate) measure of respect.

Naturally I am frustrated.

Of course I’m grateful that Violet has used her column to raise up this story, both for the benefit that brings to Comstock Films and because I think the story itself is an important reflection of so much of what our films hope to address. But I am furious about the Chronicle’s editors’ refusal to link to our site. It is a slap in the face, delivered on Christmas morning, and I am stung.

When it comes to sexuality, media outlets often adopt a condescension and entitlement that they would never dare with any other topic. Over and over again we are forced to measure our principles against the value of column inches; we are asked to distinguish between “half a loaf is better than no loaf” situations and when we are being asked to eat shit.

This morning I’m pushing the plate back and saying “no thanks.” I hope Violet understands:

Dear Mr. Vega,

My name is Tony Comstock. I am a documentary filmmaker working out of New York City. I am writing you in regard to the Chronicle’s decision not to link to a blog post  on our website which is the primary source for one of the “top five underreported sex stories of the year”  in Violet Blue’s December 25 column.

Violet Blue has been a long time friend to our efforts, and we are grateful to her featuring our research into Google’s “SafeSearch” in her column. Our films are made with the specific intention of addressing how and why sexuality is treated as it is by society; and how Google’s taxonomies and filters function is an important part of that conversation.

However, I would respectfully suggest that if the Chronicle thinks a story is important enough to fill its pages, when possible The Chronicle should link to the source of said story; if not out of courtesy to the source, then out of respect for Chronicle readers. The ability to link directly to sources is the very essence of what makes the web a unique medium, and the failure to do so is unprofessional, and disrespectful of both your readers and your sources.

The professional slight aside, your newspaper’s actions are personally wounding. In my fifteen years as a documentary filmmaker, I’ve covered topics as diverse as AIDS orphans in Africa; to the effect of the Civil Right movement on our visualization of God; to the spiritual aftermath of of the 9/11 attacks on New York City. For the sake of addressing these  and other topics honestly, I’ve subjected my audience to images the dead and the dying, and to personal accounts of unimaginable horror. I’ve asked my audience to see things no one should ever see, and to open their ears and their hearts stories of misery and deprivation, in the hopes that out of the suffering, something human and uplifting  might be found. I have no doubt that if Ms. Blue or any other of the Chronicle’s writers were to site this work in an online column, readers would have been given a link without a second thought.

Yet somehow, when the topic is sex, your newspaper can’t seem to located its journalistic ethics, or even common decency. A cursory search of the your paper’s website shows that its editors are more than happy to “sex-up” their pages with accounts of all manner of endeavors they are unwilling to link to. In the last year, my own company and our films have been mentioned several times on the Chronicle website, with nary a link. But this latest episode simply goes to far. In Ms. Blue’s column the editors have linked to a secondary source, Susie Bright’s blog, while refusing to link to the post on our site which is the primary source of the story. Presumably this because Chronicle editors feel their readers will be able to “handle” whatever they might encounter on Ms. Bright’s site, but fear the content on ComstockFilms.com might cause reader grievous offense.

What offense this might be I’m sure I don’t know. Our films have played in festivals and received awards in festivals worldwide, including: The Melbourne Underground Film Festival, The Sydney International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, Outfest Atlanta LGBT Film Festival, The Long Beach LGBT Film Festival, and the Tel Aviv International LGBT Film Festival, The New Zealand LGBT Film Festival; each time to enthusiastic audiences who have found our films heartwarming.

Our films are held in the library of the Kinsey Institute at the University of Indiana  in Bloomington Indiana. Our films are used as teaching and training material at Planned Parenthood,  at The Gay Mens Health Crisis in New York City, and at the San Francisco Sex Information Hotline. Our films  are used in university courses on topics ranging from film studies, to sexuality, to women’s studies, and by private therapists across the country.

In the course of this endeavor, our site has been linked to from Richard Corliss’s collumn at Time.com; Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish at TheAtlantic.com; Women’s Health Magazine website, Tango Magazine Website, Jane Magazine Website, New York Post website, and many others. The links from these various and respectable sources did not provoke a flurry of angry letters, cancellation of subscriptions, or diminishment of these various publications’ prestige.

The Chronicle’s failure to link to our site is nothing less than hypocrisy, and whether this hypocrisy is a product of prudery or cowardice hardly matters. It is the same sort of hypocrisy that Google indulges in when they write their SafeSearch filter so that it returns over 33 million page for [penis], over 4 million pages for [glans], but not a single page for [clitoris] (the very subject of Ms. Blue’s column.) This sort of hypocrisy is pernicious, corrosive to civil society, contributes to a climate of shame and doubt around sexuality, and unworthy of a news organization with the storied history of the San Francisco Chronicle.

More over, I am a human being. The couples that appear in my films are human beings. We are not here to provide your newspaper with the opportunity to titillate its readership at one moment, then be shunted aside as second class citizens in the next. We are not here to be demeaned by the craven insinuation that linking to our website and the depictions contained therein would somehow be beneath the editorial standards of The Chronicle, or inflict trauma on its readers.

I would respectfully ask that the Chronicle provide readers a link to our blog post which is the foundation for the Chronicle’s news item. Failing that, I would ask that Chronicle editors give a candid account of their guidelines for external links, and how the decision not to link to our website was reached. I’m certain such an accounting would be illuminating for all parties concerned.

The courtesy of your response is greatly appreciated.

Yours sincerely,
Tony Comstock

I didn’t end up sending this letter to Mr. Vega. Whether that was the right decision or the wrong decision, I don’t know. Part of fighting well is knowing when not to fight, and if anything I suspect that sometimes I am too eager to get into a scrap, and maybe sometimes I end up cutting my own nose to spite my face.

But if you don’t ever fight, they win. That’s par for the course too. I guess that’s what Violet’s working out when she says “I’m working it out in my head so as to avoid an international incident.” Working it out, when half a loaf is better than no loaf, and when you’re being asked to eat shit is never easy. Whatever decision Violet comes to, I wish her the best.

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