GamerGate and SPJ Airplay: Questions and Thoughts on Where We Go
This 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 SPJAirplay.com 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.
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:
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.
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.)