This interview arose from the digital arguments when George Phillies merely proposed setting up pages to advertise N3F on Mewe and Parler. Mr. Hunt was defending free speech and the platforms themselves, so I contacted him for an interview. This is the result.

Jason Hunt is the CEO and publisher of SciFi4Me. Corporate Vision Magazine called them the best horror, science fiction and fantasy entertainment media news platform in 2020. And I had the opportunity to interview him.

Tamara Wilhite: How long as SciFi4Me been around? And how has it changed over the years?    

Jason Hunt:  We got started in 2009 as a response to the Sci Fi Channel’s rebranding and the frustration fans felt at the time. There was a lot of online conversation about how it felt like the network was abandoning its core audience.

My original idea was to create a media outlet that would be a mix of television and radio stations, newspaper, and town hall. It never quite materialized that way, mainly because I didn’t have the right resources. But I think the idea was ahead of its time. It just took us a while to make it work.


Tamara Wilhite: Twenty years ago, the internet was a wild west. Anyone could set up a website and have a nearly equal voice, especially if they got their search engine optimization right. We’ve seen a slow consolidation of content and literal power in the hands of Big Tech firms.    

I’d say the list is Google, Apple, Microsoft, and maybe IBM. They’re imposing ideological filters on content and pushing off users who don’t fit their mold. This has led to a number of startups like Gab, MeWe, and Parler, though Big Tech firms have colluded to shut them down. They’re denied access to the app stores controlled by Google and Apple. They’re hidden in search results by Google. They’re limited in reach on social media sites. We can argue about whether this is big business violating the civil rights of others, anti-trust action killing startups or something else. However, that’s not what I want to ask you.


We’re speaking today because you and I witnessed an argument about whether or not it was even appropriate for publications to create pages on these new social media platforms to reach potential customers. What is your take on this issue?    

Jason Hunt:  On the one hand, you can make a valid argument that these companies, being private businesses, have every right to make those decisions to de-platform whomever they choose. However, as big as they are, they’ve evolved past the point where they’re just another business providing a service. They’re monolithic and monopolistic, and as ubiquitous as they’ve become, they’re now similar enough to public utilities because of the reach they have. The Big Tech firms enjoy the protections of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, but they’re trying to have their cake and eat it, too. Curating content, and colluding with each other to interfere with other businesses trying to enter the same space, violates that 230 protection and gets the discussion moving into RICO territory. Parler is just the latest victim of that.

But on the other hand, the reality is that we have these tools to use for marketing and promotion, and just like any other avenue for advertising, there’s good and bad that comes along for the ride. I see social media now in the same way I look at television and radio commercials or newspaper and magazine ads. It’s another way to reach an audience and let people know about your product. I’ve pretty much completely abandoned any kind of personal activity on any of these platforms, focusing solely on using them as marketing tools. When managed properly, they can be useful. But it’s better to take them in small doses. Do what you need to do and get away from it for a while.


Tamara Wilhite: I’ve read about the same censorship in publishing, such as employees at major publishing houses calling for the censoring of authors like JK Rowling and Dr. Jordan Peterson. Have you seen similar trends in science fiction, fantasy and horror?    

Jason Hunt:  Without question. Traditional publishing has been going through this for a while now, at least as far back as 2015 when the Hugo Awards devolved into a Mean Girls Sleepover. Message fiction has become the new “Great American Novel”. The problem is that so many in the industry are focused so much on identity and representation, especially with the idea of intersecting with third wave feminism or Critical Race Theory, that they’ve lost sight of the importance of telling a story that entertains just as much as it makes a person think.

The Cancel Cult is alive and well, and I think it’s driven by low self-esteem and jealousy just as much as it’s driven by some grand sense of Savior Virtue. Several times we’ve seen YA authors withdraw their books after being shamed into submission. Amelie Wen Zhao, Kosoko Jackson, Keira Drake, Laurie Forest, and Alexandra Duncan all fell victim to this same bullying tactic, and that just barely scratches the surface of the mess. The Romance Writers of America just imploded over this very thing. I haven’t looked lately, but I don’t think they’ve recovered yet.


Tamara Wilhite: In theory, self-publishing and small press are viable alternatives for content creators. But how viable is it?    

Jason Hunt:  I think so. Again, it goes back to the product and the person making it. We’re seeing now in the comics industry, a lot of creators are walking away from publishers like DC and Marvel and setting up their own story universes. And they’re making money and building audiences.

With any creative endeavor, there always has to be a connection between the creator and the audience. And with self-publishing, the creator has to wear so many more hats – author, editor, promoter, financial officer, shipping clerk, order processor… But there’s also a growing repeat business in the crowdfunded model. If you can deliver the goods, and you can do it more than once, there’s definitely room for success for a lot of people who wouldn’t otherwise find it.


Tamara Wilhite: And how can indie authors, crowdsourced comic artists and others get the word out about their content?    

Jason Hunt: It’s about making connections, both with the audience and other creators. As much as I hate to say it, social media does play a role. For a number of years, creators have had to bear more of the burden of marketing and promotion. There are a number of resources out there – writers workshops, Facebook and LinkedIn groups, networking events – that people can use to form connections on the professional side.

On the audience side, it’s important to make that personal connection as well. YouTube has proven to be a useful tool for that. Whether you’re making your own videos or appearing as a guest on other channels, the more you get out in front of people, the easier it is to make that connection. And once conventions open up again, that will be another way to get the word out about your work. Of course, there’s also the paid advertising route, but it’s always a crap shoot with return on investment.

The most important part is to remain consistent in both the frequency of getting in front of people and the message you’re trying to deliver. And be honest.  Know yourself. Be ready to answer questions. Be ready to make mistakes and look a little silly. You have to treat this like a business, but it’s very important to make that personal connection, and being comfortable in your own skin is one of the most important tools you can have in your kit.


Tamara Wilhite: The government-mandated shutdowns in response to the coronavirus crisis has decimated the film industry. The 2020 ticket sales were around 2.3 billion, a 40 year low. How do you think this will affect the movie industry?      

Jason Hunt:  It’s been devastating, but I think it’s been harder on the theaters more than the “industry” itself. The studios still have outlets for their programming, as long as they’re able to get into production and not run into containment protocol issues. Film and television will find an outlet with streaming services, video-on-demand, rental deals. They don’t absolutelyhave to put a movie in a theater ever again.

Having said that, I think Christopher Nolan is right in that we need that social activity of going out and being around other people. At some point we’re going to have to get back to that or else society is going to crack. Humans are social. We’re designed to thrive on that interaction.

I think one way the film industry can pivot is to make movies with smaller budgets. Not everything has to be the billion-dollar blockbuster. We’ve seen a decline in the art films, the rom-coms, the detective pictures, in favor of the superheroes and big space adventures. Those have their place, sure, but we also need those smaller films to tell different types of stories. Plus, the smaller budgets mean there’s a better chance for a profit margin, which means survival.


Tamara Wilhite: And what will this mean for smaller studios and content creators like the DUST scifi channel on YouTube?    

Jason Hunt:  I think there’s an opportunity here. My approach to our channel is to think of it as a TV channel that happens to be using YouTube for our distribution, rather than a typical “YouTube channel” that engages in the outrage bait or pop culture topic of the day. Think of it as if early YouTube was the local access cable outlet, whereas now it’s getting to be more structured as YouTube personalities and creators figure out the potential of what they’re able to do.

By approaching our channel as if it’s a regular TV network, it impacts how we treat our programming and how we treat our audience. Channels like DUST seem to be doing the same thing: using YouTube as a distribution point for programming that you would normally find on cable television. I’ve actually thought about the possibility of taking our programs to Roku or Pluto or something like that.

But I also think the democratization of the landscape will also lead to the abandonment of YouTube at some point as creators start to realize that they need to have more control over their own product. It very well could be that we see a return to individual web sites and media platforms as Big Tech continues to tighten its grip on creators.


Tamara Wilhite: How else do you think the science fiction, horror and fantasy industry has been altered by the disruptions of 2020?    

Jason Hunt:  Well, I think the fascination with dystopian futures will wane, certainly. The challenge for any speculative fiction is that technology has caught up. Where do we go from here? Is the next wave of stories going to center on artificial intelligence? Will the missions to the Moon and Mars re-ignite a new interest in space opera? Hard to predict, but I think there will be more of an acknowledgement that humanity still has a very long way to go. What that looks like in genre fiction is anybody’s guess at this point. Near future will be much more difficult to get a handle on, but I do think we’ll get a round of stories like 1984 and Brave New World, only with AI at the core of the darkness lurking around the corner.


Tamara Wilhite: What would you like to add?    

Jason Hunt:  It’s important that people recognize that not everyone is the same, not everyone thinks the same way. We don’t all have the same beliefs, and that should be a factor in crafting stories for the general audience. If you have something very specific for a target market, that’s one thing, but in every case the story should come first. Its value must first come from whether or not it entertains and engages the imagination of the reader (or viewer). Past that, if you want to include a nugget of “the moral of the story” it needs to be organic and logically integrated into the plot. If every book comes off like an Afterschool Special, we won’t be selling very many books.


Tamara Wilhite: Thank you for speaking with me.