Rec.arts.sf.tv.babylon5.moderated

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Newsgroup
Name: rec.arts.sf.tv.babylon5.moderated
Date(s): 1996-
Moderator:
Type:
Fandom: Babylon 5
URL: rec.arts.sf.tv.babylon5.moderated
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rec.arts.sf.tv.babylon5.moderated is a moderated Usenet newsgroup for fans of Babylon 5 and its showrunner, J. Michael Straczynski (JMS). It was created in 1996 when the unmoderated newsgroup, rec.arts.sf.tv.babylon5, collapsed due to spam, flamewars, and desire for JMS to have more control of its content.

JMS was a frequent contributor to both of these newsgroups, and they were among the first internet-based forums where fans could directly interact with the creator of their fandom. JMS would frequently answer fan questions about the show, not only about production or technical issues but about the backgrounds of the characters and the worlds he created. His posts, which are archived at jmsnews.com, are an early example of internet creator/fan based interactions.[1]

JMS had participated in many online forums since the 1980s, groups on GEnie and CompuServe as well as rec.arts.sf.tv.babylon5. Regarding his place as a showrunner and fan, he wrote in 1996:
I was on CIS and GEnie long before B5 got going. I figured, why change my habits just because now I was supposedly a vip? (And I'm not always comfortable with that designation.) Beyond that, my job as a writer is to know as much as I can about my characters and universe. In answering all these questions, I learn more about those areas, which helps me. Finally, it's a matter of being accessible and *accountable* to fans, as I'd wished producers had been when I was primarily a viewer. SF fans are generally the most exploited sorts of fans...you're told to line up, watch the show, buy the merchandise, and shut up. I didn't like it then, and I don't like it any better now that I'm on the other side of the lens.[2]

Fan interaction with JMS also helped to shape details in several episodes of the show. In the late first-season episode The Quality of Mercy, for example, there is a discussion of the rights of due process in a society where there are functional telepaths. JMS acknowledged on the newsgroup and in discussions that he fleshed out the on-screen discussion rather than glossing it over because there had been a high level of interest on the newsgroup.

This online interaction, however, was one of the reasons a script was scrapped, as well as for JMS's request that no fanfiction be written about the show until the series was complete. See JMS's Words for much more.

In June 1995, JMS explained why he was online communicating with fans. See Why are you here?.

The Transition

The Rangers were a group of fans created to filter messages/"administer the feed" from rec.arts.sf.tv.babylon5 (commonly called "rastb5") and pass them along to JMS. The messages that were filtered were ones that discussed fanworks, story ideas and anything else that the Rangers may have thought would be dangerous or problematic for JMS to read.

The posting of story ideas got to be a real concern, and JMS was also getting tired of the personal attacks of certain members of the group, and started talking about pulling out. (He was still reading via email, and replying the same way.) So there was a group of people that started talking about creating a mod group, which they hoped would keep him around, and another group, which I was part of, that really dislikes mod groups, particularly wit the way the technology works, and looked for other mechanisms. Thus was created what was called the Rangers (named after the show, not the other way around). We essentially "worked" for JMS (I say "worked" because we were a group of volunteers, the efforts of which he appreciated, not employees, but who's labors were directed towards him, and keeping him in the group). We read every single message, and approved then for being passed on to JMS's feed. If there was a story idea, the post got dropped from his feed. This worked for a few months, but the "kooks" were wearing him down. I actually offered, since we were filtering *anyway*, to add anyone he wanted to the list to be filtered out. He finally accepted (I pointed out that most everyone else on the net had access to kill files, he ought to be able to avail himself of the technology, and not feel he *had* to read everything!) but before we could implement it, he changed his mind and decided that the "feel" of the room was just to uncomfortable now, he was getting too many complaints from other members of the group about the personal attacks going on, and he felt responsible - they wouldn't be there if he wasn't. [3]

When this group of fans proposed the creation of a moderated version of rec.arts.sf.tv.babylon5, the ensuing Request For Discussion (RFD) became the most replied to RFD in the history of Usenet at the time.

The majority of rec.arts.sf.tv.babylon5 contributors, as well as Straczynski and other Usenet fans flocked to the new group where discussion ensued in a more controlled environment.

References

  1. ^ The posts have also been collected into a five-part book series, compiled by JMS and a team of fans, that contains of every question JMS had ever answered on Usenet, AOL bulletin boards, GEnie, and in online chats, sorted by category. The books total approximately 2,000 pages and cover 5,296 questions. More here; reference link.
  2. ^ from a CompuServ transcript
  3. ^ Ron Jarrell: How did JMS come to be here in the first place