GamerGate and SPJ Airplay: Questions and Thoughts on Where We Go

Josh is here with his thoughts on what Airplay gained for GamerGate and where the consumer revolt goes from here

ECIjeE3This past Saturday marked an event that many in and around the events of GamerGate were both look­ing for­ward too or dread­ing, de­pend­ing on whom you asked. Region 3 Director for the SPJ (Society for Professional Journalists), Michael Koretzky, or­ga­nized an event called Airplay. For those who don’t know, Airplay was a pan­el dis­cus­sion be­tween devs, jour­nal­ists, and aca­d­e­mics that worked to de­fine what the gen­er­al beef is be­tween gamers and the en­thu­si­ast press they have called to task, as well as a way to ad­dress how the me­dia in­ter­acts with and por­trays on­line move­ments go­ing into the future.

The event near­ly went off with­out a hitch — mul­ti­ple bomb threats aside. In fact, there was a bomb threat deemed cred­i­ble enough by Miami-Dade PD that they end­ed up or­der­ing the build­ing that Airplay was be­ing held in to be evac­u­at­ed ap­prox. 2:30pm EST. Eerily rem­i­nis­cent of an ear­li­er event re­gard­ing a GamerGate meet-up in Washington, DC; it is un­de­ter­mined at this time where the threats came from in both the DC and Miami incidents.

Other folks, fin­er writ­ers than this man, went over the de­tails of the pan­els. If you have not, then I sug­gest you check out some of these ac­counts of events as well as watch­ing the pan­els them­selves (at­tached at the bottom).

A summary of the events

The morn­ing pan­el con­sist­ed of Ashe Schow from the Washington Examiner, Breitbart writer Allum Bokhari, and the very dap­per look­ing Mark Ceb as they dis­cussed some of the is­sues gamers had with the games press — and me­dia at large — with the oth­er side of the pan­el that in­clud­ed SPJ mem­ber and in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist Lynn Walsh, Ren LaForme who is a jour­nal­ism in­struc­tor for the Poynter Institute, and neu­tral game de­vel­op­er Derek Smart.

This pan­el had a great back and forth, with some high­lights in­clud­ing try­ing to ex­plain GamerGate suc­cinct­ly to an old­er jour­nal­ist who was ig­no­rant of the events, Paolo Munoz’s im­pas­sioned com­men­tary on the cli­mate of fear that out­lets like Gawker in­still, and the gen­er­al con­sen­sus that, yes, game jour­nal­ists have been deal­ing in impropriety.

It was a pret­ty rous­ing dis­cus­sion, even with some hor­ren­dous au­dio is­sues at the start of it. On so­cial me­dia, you could al­most hear the col­lec­tive cries of joy as gamers got con­fir­ma­tion that they were not alone in think­ing that cer­tain out­lets act in un­eth­i­cal man­ners. The ques­tion comes, though, of what does one do now? We’ll touch on that af­ter the summary.

During this time, it is no­table that the #SPJAirplay tag start­ed to trend in the United States and the United Kingdom.  A tes­ta­ment to the in­cred­i­ble lev­el of ac­tiv­i­ty that those en­thu­si­as­tic about ethics were generating.

After a lunch break, Airplay re­sumed with the same pan­el on the neu­tral side; Lynn Walsh, Ren LaForme, and Derek Smart. This time for the GamerGate side of the talks we had an­oth­er writer for Breitbart, Milo Yiannopoulos, AEI schol­ar and au­thor Christina Hoff Sommers, and Cathy Young, writer for Reason.

I’ll be po­lite in say­ing that the af­ter­noon pan­el was a bit of a train­wreck at times. The biggest is­sue I had with this part of Airplay is the ego fenc­ing be­tween Breitbart’s Yiannopoulos and Michael Koretzky, or­ga­niz­er of and mod­er­a­tor for Airplay. You can tell there is a bit of con­tention be­tween the two, and their spar­ring cer­tain­ly di­lut­ed the im­pact of fur­ther dis­cus­sion af­ter this point. There was still some great back and forth and good points were made by all sides, but it was be­com­ing quite clear that Koretzky had more than a “moderator’s” in­ter­est in this part of the event.

Personally, I re­al­ly wish he would have got­ten an­oth­er mod­er­a­tor for this pan­el and just pulled up a seat him­self at a ta­ble. It was ap­par­ent he want­ed to make his own points. Call me old fash­ion, but that doesn’t seem to be the role of a mod­er­a­tor. He did a de­cent job of try­ing to keep folks on track, but he want­ed to in­ject his view so much into the talks that I think it would have been bet­ter served for him to be up on the ac­tu­al panel.

Other watch­ers of Airplay did of­fer cri­tiques on how Koretzky was per­ceived to be cut­ting off dis­cus­sion of rel­e­vant de­tails to how GamerGate had re­port­ed on and treat­ed by the larg­er me­dia outlets.

Chriss, @Chriss_m on Twitter, of­fered these com­ments on the blog post cov­er­ing the event:

Lynn Walsh said words to the ef­fect of ‘I still don’t un­der­stand what Gamergate is about’.

Well, here’s the thing, Koretzky. She’d un­der­stand it even less if you had had your way. In those open­ing state­ment you seem to dis­like so much, our af­ter­noon pan­elists did an ex­cel­lent job of explaining:

Why they were in­volved in Gamergate.

Who Gamergate has an is­sue with.

How it re­lates to jour­nal­is­tic ethics.

How and why the me­dia mis­rep­re­sent­ed the movement.

Following up on this, Ren LaForme, who end­ed the first pan­el by say­ing he was still deeply skep­ti­cal of Gamergate, would have had the op­por­tu­ni­ty to chal­lenge the pan­elists on any as­pect of the sit­u­a­tion he wished. And this would have pro­vid­ed a spring­board into how to avoid these per­ceived fail­ings in cov­er­ing on­line move­ments. You in­stead adopt­ed a hos­tile po­si­tion to­ward the panel.

The pan­el was sup­posed to be about how to cov­er on­line move­ments. You had an ab­solute­ly unique op­por­tu­ni­ty. Three very well known and promi­nent peo­ple with­in their fields, who have been as deep in an on­line move­ment as you can go, for around about a year, […] sat there and [were] will­ing to give you a de­tailed de fac­to case study of how it op­er­at­ed and how the me­dia mis­re­port­ed it. For some *biz­zare* rea­son, you de­cid­ed to hob­ble them by rul­ing out any­thing that had oc­curred be­fore AirPlay.”

Hands down best part of the af­ter­noon pan­el — to me — was when dis­cus­sion of the episode of Law and Order SVU that went into fur­ry cul­ture came up. A con­fused Sommers in­quir­ing what a fur­ry is launched plen­ty of jokes across the dig­i­tal land.

Image via

The af­ter­noon pan­el was cut off by the afore­men­tioned bomb threat that evac­u­at­ed the build­ing part way through. As the venue evac­u­at­ed onto the street, and folks were milling about and get­ting to talk on an in­di­vid­ual lev­el, some­thing kind of amaz­ing hap­pened. Despite the swel­ter­ing heat of the day — and in no small part to some kind souls who de­liv­ered wa­ter to those out on the street — they took over a near by aban­doned prop­er­ty and had an­oth­er im­promp­tu “pan­el” talk.

Whatever com­bi­na­tion of emo­tions from the bomb scare, and hav­ing the time to hu­man­ize those they had been talk­ing about but nev­er talked to, com­bined to make this a won­der­ful­ly in­ter­est­ing di­cus­sion. Members of the press from the au­di­ence got to talk face to face with gamers and oth­er jour­nal­ists who sup­port­ed GamerGate.

It bor­dered on kismet. People who par­tic­i­pat­ed in the con­sumer re­volt ex­pect­ed a bomb threat. But not be­cause of any pre-planned con­niv­ing, but due to threats and scares be­com­ing par for the course when on­line de­bates meet in the flesh.

The im­pas­sioned talks on the street in­spired some jour­nal­ists, with Jack Pagano stating:

Image Via

So all in all, Airplay went about as I ex­pect­ed. The dis­cus­sion was live­ly and in­for­ma­tive and I feel that all sides present were able to take away some in­sight and ways to move for­ward in the now year-long protest against un­eth­i­cal media.

But there are lin­ger­ing ques­tions, and im­por­tant thoughts to take for­ward from this. Where do we go from here?

Here are some of my take aways from this event. As a very fresh mem­ber of the SPJ and as some­one who sup­ports the con­sumer re­volt against an un­eth­i­cal press, I’m just a dude. Don’t take my word as gospel, but there im­por­tant things to take away from this I believe.

Why did we ever trust the media?

I know it isn’t true for me, and it isn’t true for oth­ers in the con­sumer re­volt, but why did any­one in­her­ent­ly trust any press? Most jour­nal­ism is a prod­uct, and most of that is in­tend­ed to reach the low­est com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor with­in the au­di­ence. That is why you hear jour­nal­ists say “ex­plain it to me in a minute” be­cause that is what they have to do to their au­di­ence. It doesn’t mat­ter how nu­anced a writ­ers un­der­stand­ing of an event is if they are work­ing for a plat­form whose busi­ness op­er­a­tions are based on pump­ing out sound bite news hits meant to keep people’s eye­balls peeled on advertisements.

This is not a con­dem­na­tion of all me­dia and press. This is a state­ment about jour­nal­ism as a prod­uct and how some out­lets treat it. It’s the sad, un­der dis­cussed, truth of most of the me­dia that peo­ple want so bad­ly to be le­git­imized. Of course there are news­rooms and in­di­vid­u­als who are won­der­ful, skilled, in­sight­ful, and able to to keep their ap­proach­es fair. But that is the ex­cep­tion, in my eyes, and not the rule.

But there is no le­git­imiz­ing some out­lets. If you look at the Gawkers and the Buzzfeeds of the world, it would lit­er­al­ly kill their busi­ness mod­el to act in a more stan­dards dri­ven way. Same with USA Today, Salon, Guardian, etc. These out­lets are push­ing a prod­uct, and it isn’t the news. It is the au­di­ence, dropped into de­mo­graph­i­cal­ly la­beled buck­ets and sold in bulk to ad­ver­tis­ers. Why would their pri­or­i­ty be the truth? The truth might be the use­ful byprod­uct of a giv­en ar­ti­cle, but the bot­tom line for these out­lets are get­ting eye­balls to advertisers.

So where is the line that one ig­nore out­lets that have zero in­cen­tive to change? Where we start putting the en­er­gy of one’s out­rage to sup­port those who do op­er­ate in ways you find mesh with your ideas of standards?

That is one I am wrestling with my­self — as much as I want to see Gawker go bank­rupt and nev­er ex­ist again. There is a rea­son I re­cuse my­self from writ­ing about Gawker and their me­dia ten­ta­cles. I don’t view them as a com­peti­tor; I view them as an en­e­my. An en­e­my to any­thing re­sem­bling qual­i­ty press.

It’s also one of the rea­sons I start­ed this site. I was shak­ing my fist at the bad ac­tors, and I de­cid­ed it was bet­ter to use that fist to ham­mer an al­ter­na­tive site in the mold of what I view as qual­i­ty (to the best of my abil­i­ty, at least). Be the change you want to see, and all that jazz.

What can the SPJ, or any ethical body, do at this point?

It was re­it­er­at­ed by Korestky and Lynn Walsh dur­ing the pan­els, but the SPJ ac­tu­al­ly doesn’t have teeth. They were not de­signed to. They ad­vo­cate and ed­u­cate on ethics and op­er­at­ing in stan­dards dri­ven ways in your news­room. They of­fer we­bi­na­rs and train­ing mod­ules to im­prove your tool box. They don’t en­force; they discuss.

It’s a hard ques­tion to an­swer when asked, “what would one pre­fer?” A body that can ac­tu­al­ly reg­u­late and en­force man­dates? Or one that of­fers a more hands off approach?

Maybe it is the lib­er­tar­i­an in me, but I don’t even think I want a body that en­forces stan­dards. That is very dan­ger­ous ter­ri­to­ry. Ethics are not dog­mat­ic, and will vary in rel­e­vance from news­room to news­room. An ed­i­fice built to ac­tu­al­ly man­date what is eth­i­cal and when doesn’t sound like a slip­pery slope; it sounds like a straight drop into the de­vel­op­ment of a Ministry of Truth. This could be used for abuse in so many ways.

And what are the “good” jour­nal­ists sup­posed to do? Go around wear­ing badges say­ing “I’m not a shit, you can trust me!” No. I don’t want a body that reg­u­lates. I can un­der­stand how oth­ers would, but it is a path I wouldn’t want to take.

It’s not to say these types of eth­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tions built on ad­vo­ca­cy are use­less. I wouldn’t have joined the SPJ if that were the case. Discussion is para­mount when it comes to peo­ple com­ing across the ta­ble to gar­ner an un­der­stand­ing. This is ex­act­ly what Airplay established.

And wouldn’t you know it, jour­nal­ists out­side the gam­ing realm ac­tu­al­ly lis­tened to and ap­pre­ci­at­ed the pas­sion and mes­sage of what’s come from GamerGate. Ignorance is one of our worst en­e­mies, be­cause it has al­lowed the more bi­ased me­dia out­lets room to tell their tale. Now a more round­ed view is com­ing into fo­cus for journalists.

This also touch­es on some­thing Lynn Walsh said in the morn­ing pan­el. Paraphrased, this busi­ness runs on rep­u­ta­tion. The more ridicu­lous, out of touch, and out­right slan­der­ous pieces that come from some games jour­nal­ists com­bined with the dis­cus­sion and aware­ness of how this is af­fect­ing real peo­ple is the lever for change. It is nev­er over night, but the dis­cus­sion is be­ing had. Can we change all of me­dia? No, but we can make stan­dards dri­ven me­dia out­lets some­thing that is de­sired in the mar­ket. And we can make that known to the press that will listen.

So what can we do now?

Whoa, that is a re­al­ly open ques­tion…. that I asked my­self. There is ac­tu­al­ly a lot that in­di­vid­u­als and groups can do. I will touch on two of the most im­por­tant for me.

First are watch­dogs and cit­i­zens ac­tions groups. These have been lever­aged many times in cur­rent and his­tor­i­cal times. It’s noth­ing new, and you should not ever let some­one shame you or feel em­bar­rassed for want­i­ng one in an area of press that touch­es your life. It takes ac­tion to make change. It re­quires eyes watch­ing and peo­ple will­ing to stand up when they see malef­i­cence. It re­quires peo­ple will­ing to or­ga­nize so­lu­tions and aware­ness. We, quite lit­er­al­ly, need you.

A big an­swer to the ques­tion of “why do gamers care so much?” is that it is not only a realm that touch­es their life and the life of the cre­ators they love, but it is also an area of me­dia we could ac­tu­al­ly touch. Grassroots ac­tions had very real out­comes when it comes to GamerGate. Some of the gam­ing press up­dat­ed and added ethics poli­cies. Advertisers pulled from Gawker when emailed. In an age where peo­ple can feel in­creas­ing­ly pow­er­less next to big cor­po­ra­tions and an in­creas­ing­ly im­per­son­al in­ter­net, folks could fi­nal­ly reach out and touch some­thing for the better.

The sec­ond idea I am pas­sion­ate about, and think is in­creas­ing­ly be­com­ing more im­por­tant, is the cre­ation of al­ter­na­tives that op­er­ate how you feel is fair, and the sup­port of those out­lets. It is eas­i­er than ever to de­vel­op your own plat­form, tell your own part of the sto­ry, to al­ter the course of the pub­lic nar­ra­tive. GamerGate has caused a mar­ket shake up when it comes to the games press, and that is great in a free mar­ket. We need to keep on push­ing for those al­ter­na­tives we sup­port, and keep en­abling the com­mu­ni­ca­tion of un­der­rep­re­sent­ed viewpoints.

The continued case for no leaders

This is an in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant and di­vi­sive point to many. Thus far, op­er­a­tions and ideas in GamerGate have been very much mer­it based. Do peo­ple like an idea? They do it then, and if they don’t like an idea it gets ig­nored (or pos­si­bly ridiculed). Did some­one say some­thing that touched peo­ple? Then they share it, and leave the rest at the bot­tom of the pile. It can be in­ef­fi­cient at times but it has been in­cred­i­bly use­ful for keep­ing a group that has such dif­fer­ing view­points on is­sues to­geth­er for a com­mon push.

And I don’t think that has to change. But we do need peo­ple will­ing to do the talk­ing and pre­sen­ta­tion about the de­tails of what the group finds mer­it in bring­ing to the ta­ble. This does not in­volve pick­ing “lead­ers” or even “rep­re­sen­ta­tives” of any kind of fac­tion or ide­ol­o­gy. This just in­volves peo­ple who talk to oth­er peo­ple about the is­sues at hand. They are only a “leader’ in­so­much that you per­son­al­ly make them one.

If you take Airplay as an ex­am­ple, there were six peo­ple who spoke for the side of the con­sumer re­volt. Only 5 out of the 6 do I re­al­ly sup­port as hold­ing my view­points and as be­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tive. The one I do not sup­port does not take away from the dis­cus­sion, does not rep­re­sent me, and cer­tain­ly are not a leader. Even if oth­ers sup­port this per­son when I don’t.

So we have a bit of a branch­ing path left af­ter Airplay. If you turn to page 50, you can tell the or­ga­nized me­dia to for­ni­cate them­selves and con­tin­ue this con­sumer re­volt large­ly how it was. This was damned ef­fec­tive, for a time at least. I hap­pen to ques­tion how long that can keep up, but it’s not my place tell peo­ple they shouldn’t tell the me­dia to shove off.

In my thirty-three years on this Earth I have cer­tain­ly got­ten used to not car­ing what lies the me­dia tries to tell me. I’ve been a mis­fit to them for decades be­tween my mu­sic tastes and be­ing one of those “Satanic” Dungeons & Dragons play­ers. We have en­act­ed pos­i­tive change in a lead­er­less fash­ion, and who’s to say we can­not con­tin­ue like that?

This is not to con­fuse cults of per­son­al­i­ty as “lead­ers.” People will al­ways flock to charis­mat­ic peo­ple, and fol­low­er count on so­cial me­dia has noth­ing to do with how well some­one can com­mu­ni­cate an idea.

Though, if we turn to page 72 of our choose our own ad­ven­ture book, we start build­ing bridges with tra­di­tion­al me­dia and start work­ing on greater ad­vo­ca­cy of me­dia from a ground up approach.

The games press, and en­ter­tain­ment me­dia in gen­er­al, has al­ways been a kind of “soft” form of jour­nal­ism in pro­fes­sion­al eyes. You saw it your­self when Anita Sarkeesian was on The Colbert Report. Colbert’s anal­o­gy of the games press be­ing as un­eth­i­cal as the movie press was very apt, but his punch line of “why care?” re­al­ly miss­es the point. One should care. We should care about all the me­dia we consume.

We have to de­mand the stan­dards, be­cause to most out­lets we are the prod­uct to serve to the ad­ver­tis­ers. We have to com­mu­ni­cate to the press and me­dia what we want. We have to make the truth prof­itable, as sad as it is to say.

And we have to make those points known, and con­tin­ue that for as long as we can. What’s the thing that all false nar­ra­tives have in com­mon? They keep get­ting re­peat­ed over and over un­til they take on a truth of their own in the court of pub­lic opin­ion. We need to keep re­peat­ing our points, un­til the truth can be­come the nar­ra­tive. But we are go­ing to need peo­ple will­ing to keep on re-iterating and com­mu­ni­cat­ing these points to the press and oth­er jour­nal­ists. These are not lead­ers, they are am­bas­sadors and trans­la­tors. They only have as much pow­er as you let them have.

In Parting

Those are just few of the more burn­ing points and thoughts in my head about this whole af­fair. All in all, Airplay was a net win to me. If the goal was to raise aware­ness, then I have to give it at least 3 out of 4 stars. The post-bomb threat talk was es­pe­cial­ly poignant and I feel is the high­light of the event.

What are your thoughts on what Airplay means for GamerGate, as the con­sumer re­volt reach­es it’s one year anniversary?

Have any al­ter­nate paths in our choose your own ad­ven­ture book?

Let us know down be­low in the comments!



(Updated 8/20 to cor­rect the spelling of Lynn Walsh’s name.)

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Josh has worked in IT for over 15 years. Graduated Broadcasting school in 2012 with a fo­cus on A/V pro­duc­tion. Amateur pho­tog­ra­ph­er with a pas­sion to make things work… by any means nec­es­sary. Editor-in-Chief and do-er of tech things at SuperNerdLand

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