Header DoGJ

Part One of A multi-part series, visit the parts index

Games Journalism is dead. Or at least games jour­nal­ism in its cur­rent form is dead. From my per­spec­tive, there is no growth left in the “tra­di­tional” model of games writ­ing. But the ques­tion is “Who killed Games Journalism?” And the answer is sim­ple: Games Journalists, or at least the peo­ple trad­ing on unearned jour­nal­is­tic cre­den­tials.  I’m going to quote myself from my intro­duc­tory piece for this site because I feel it’s impor­tant to know where I am com­ing from:

I am not a jour­nal­ist. I hold no jour­nal­ism degree or cre­den­tials. I would feel inept break­ing a large story of real con­se­quence because of this fact. But I believe that as ‘just a blog­ger’ you have to have a set of stan­dards and let an audi­ence know where you are com­ing from.

For instance I would never exag­ger­ate or know­ingly put false or mis­lead­ing infor­ma­tion into any of my writ­ing, even to ‘make a point’. I want peo­ple to under­stand my point and per­suade them to share my beliefs, but not at the cost of those beliefs.”

side1The Blogger/Journalist dilemma is one that has plagued recent con­tro­ver­sies in games media and is at the heart of the iden­tity cri­sis of the medium. It’s become almost a joke, with peo­ple adopt­ing what­ever title suites them best at any given moment. You see writ­ers for Kotuku and Polygon say­ing “We don’t strive for objec­tiv­ity” or “We are bias.” You see Leigh Alexander say, “I have an agenda” and revel in the fact that all of her writ­ing stems from that. After enough exam­ples of this you begin to see the degen­er­a­tion of the medium. You can’t dis­avow integrity, stan­dards, objec­tiv­ity of method and ethics and still expect to be con­sid­ered a jour­nal­ist. If you say “Fuck you! I’m just going to talk about my ide­ol­ogy and my per­sonal gripes” then well done: you just talked your­self out of being a jour­nal­ist. You can blog about what­ever you feel like, go nuts, no one is try­ing to silence you. But the word “jour­nal­ist” comes with expec­ta­tions.

I’ll say it once again: I am not a jour­nal­ist. I have not earned that. I would never expect the level of access a jour­nal­ist gets.

It all comes down to one thing: access. When you say “I work for a major gam­ing news and review out­let,” that gives you cer­tain perks. Perks that come in exchange for being a jour­nal­ist. GDC, PAX, TGS and espe­cially E3 all have heavy advan­tages for peo­ple who are jour­nal­ists. If a pub­lisher con­sid­ers you to have jour­nal­is­tic cre­den­tials then you have ear­lier pre­views, ear­lier reviews, devel­oper access, inter­view access, con­ven­tion passes, swag upon sway, and review copies. The list goes on. But it is a give and take. If you talk down your jour­nal­is­tic integrity then don’t be sur­prised when the pub­lish­ers take your toys away from you. When E3 rolls around, these peo­ple play seri­ous jour­nal­ist, but when they get caught cov­er­ing their friends sud­denly it’s just a blog.

Patreon is not a pub­li­ca­tion. If you write about games and you don’t hold your­self to a set of jour­nal­is­tic stan­dards, or are not even attached to a pub­li­ca­tion then a pub­lisher or devel­oper will have to eval­u­ate you on audi­ence. And there is a big que of peo­ple before you in terms of raw num­bers. It’s an open secret (and an issue I am going to close out this series with) that the tra­di­tional games media gets absolutely curb-stomped by even mid-sized gam­ing stream­ers and Youtubers. If we are just in a war for clicks then you as an indi­vid­ual jour­nal­ist are at a mas­sive dis­ad­van­tage.

Do you think IGN would get as many clicks if it didn’t have “exclu­sive pre­views” of games? The thing that sets most gam­ing pub­li­ca­tions apart from their com­peti­tors is get­ting news first. It’s all about being first to the story and that can be a detri­ment. The race to be first is old news, the race to make peo­ple angry seems to be the new trend. What is really rot­ting away games writ­ing is click­bait. Not just “Top 10 Ways to Insert your Controller in Yourself” fluff bull­shit, I’m tak­ing about man­u­fac­tured con­tro­versy. Gawker media is at the front of the charge in this. I’ve taken to call­ing parts of the gaming/tech/nerd press “The Gawkerazzi” because of their sim­i­lar MO. Clickbait is short-sighted and it does not breed loy­alty. This has some over­lap with what I will say in the next piece about the busi­ness side of games writ­ing, but you don’t fos­ter a hard­core fan base with click­bait. It sim­ply lures pass­ing casual browsers.

What this really comes down to is hard real­ity. Here are two things that should make any­one who has said “Objectivity isn’t some­thing to strive for” evap­o­rate in shame: The Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics and the Greg Lisby inter­view.  This really is Journalism 101: a jour­nal­is­tic ethics pro­fes­sor and as close as we have to a uni­ver­sal code of ethics.

Seek Truth and Report It: Ethical jour­nal­ism should be accu­rate and fair. Journalists should be hon­est and coura­geous in gath­er­ing, report­ing and inter­pret­ing infor­ma­tion.” SPJ code of ethics.

This isn’t an exclu­sively GamerGate piece, the issues here are big­ger than GamerGate. Some of the most bla­tant exam­ples of these rules being ignored has been the cov­er­age of issues related to gam­ing and sex­ism. In my piece for Word of the Nerd Online I out­line not only how inept this cov­er­age has been, but how it’s some­times full of fla­grant lies that can be dis­proven with the slight­est effort. Even the main­stream cov­er­age has latched onto and ampli­fied these lies. When you stop uphold­ing and seek­ing the truth you stop being a jour­nal­ist. This is why I feel I can say Games Journalism is dead: because almost no main­stream pub­li­ca­tion seems inter­ested in the truth. Moreover they seem to want to bury it for their own gain.

side2Fairness is an area that seems to have no thought or effort put into it. “Bias is good” is not some­thing a jour­nal­ist should ever say, even when talk­ing about an opin­ion piece. What they mean is “Subjectivity.” Here is the dic­tio­nary def­i­n­i­tion of bias:

Bias: Inclination or prej­u­dice for or against one per­son or group, espe­cially in a way con­sid­ered to be unfair”

For Contrast here is the dic­tio­nary def­i­n­i­tion of Subjectivity:

Subjectivity refers to how someone’s judg­ment is shaped by per­sonal opin­ions and feel­ings instead of out­side influ­ences. Subjectivity is par­tially respon­si­ble for why one per­son loves an abstract paint­ing while another per­son hates it.”

So what they are say­ing is that they expect work to show clear and unfair prej­u­dice against an idea or per­son. Subjectivity, a well backed up dif­fer­ent view­point is fine, that is an opin­ion based on your own per­sonal feel­ings, you can’t mit­i­gate all of your per­sonal fac­tors but you can at least try not to skew your work. A Bias opin­ion is still some­thing that should not be tol­er­ated, because by def­i­n­i­tion bias is “Unfair.” So when a jour­nal­ist starts wax­ing lyri­cal about how bias is not a bad thing, maybe they should look up the mean­ing of the word first. This piece is sub­jec­tive, it is an edi­to­rial, but I don’t have any finan­cial or per­sonal rea­son to be writ­ing this. I don’t get paid, I do it for free. This is my opin­ion, but I don’t feel I have any fac­tors unfairly skew­ing that opin­ion.

Act Independently: The high­est and pri­mary oblig­a­tion of eth­i­cal jour­nal­ism is to serve the pub­lic.”   SPJ code of ethics.

This is prob­a­bly going to come up as a trope in this series. Games Journalism is about serv­ing peo­ple inter­ested in videogames. It sounds so sim­ple, but atti­tudes have drifted away from this goal. Consumer advice. Furthering under­stand­ing.  This is the main aim of games jour­nal­ism. If you are not offer­ing good con­sumer advice or inter­est­ing analy­sis then what are you doing writ­ing about videogames? What are you doing call­ing your­self a jour­nal­ist?

DoGJ side 3Be Accountable and Transparent: Ethical jour­nal­ism means tak­ing respon­si­bil­ity for one’s work and explain­ing one’s deci­sions to the pub­lic. Journalists should Avoid con­flicts of inter­est, real or per­ceived. Disclose unavoid­able con­flicts.”
SPJ code of ethics.

You serve your read­ers, you are account­able to them. If you don’t act with­out bias or are work­ing on behalf on an inter­est, be that polit­i­cal or finan­cial, you act against your read­ers. Doubling down and insult­ing those who try and hold you to account is dou­bling down on vio­lat­ing your jour­nal­is­tic ethics and integrity.  You stop being a jour­nal­ist when this line is crossed.

The Greg Lisby inter­view just helps to under­line this; here we have the issues laid out clear as day by a pro­fes­sor of jour­nal­is­tic ethics no less. You can’t be a jour­nal­ist and expect to get away with vio­lat­ing basic jour­nal­is­tic prac­tices. I know I keep repeat­ing myself on this point but this is the real crux of the issue.  I could site exam­ples all day, and I will cer­tainly refer back to the SPJ code in the parts to come, but I think for the moment this under­li­nes how they fail to live up to their title.

You want a sub­jec­tive, even dare I say bias, opin­ion? Here’s one: I wouldn’t wipe my arse with the cur­rent crop of videogame jour­nal­ists. They are inept, petty, ide­o­log­i­cally blink­ered and beyond cor­rupt. They are less than use­less. If you can’t uphold the basic pro­fes­sional require­ments of being a jour­nal­ist then you sim­ply aren’t one. Stuffing feath­ers up your butt does not make you a chicken. Just writ­ing regur­gi­tated news and bias edi­to­ri­als does not make you a jour­nal­ist. You have to earn it.  You could prob­a­bly train a smart sheep­dog to write up the series of PR releases that is mod­ern gam­ing news. What ele­vates you is what you do when the time comes to step up to the plate; to break a story or not wither in the face of a con­tro­ver­sial issue. As the rest of this series will show, this is a task the vast major­ity of the press have failed in almost every case.

Every time I sit down to write about this I try to be cold and ana­lyt­i­cal but as you look at the facts you can’t help but think; “Holy Christ, these are the peo­ple who have been entrusted to cover a grow­ing multi-billion dol­lar indus­try?!” When you have for­mer Neo-Nazi, dis­graced for­mer Reddit mod­er­a­tor and Gameranx owner Ian Miles Cheong say­ing things like: “Ethics in Game Journalism? It’s fuck­ing Game Journalism. Who gives a fly­ing fuck? Holy Shit” and the rest of the games media/industry does not back away from him at the speed of sound then we have a mas­sive prob­lem. (Author’s note 27/04/2016: Ian Miles Cheong has since changed his stance on these issues and even gave an apol­ogy for some of his for­mer state­ments in an inter­view with SuperNerdLand)

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It’s basic. It’s so basic that the things they get wrong don’t even require deep analy­sis at times. Professionalism on social media is lack­ing, there is so much con­fu­sion about how and when you should recuse your­self from a story, there is seem­ingly com­plete con­tempt about the prac­tice of lim­it­ing bias. This stems from the afore­men­tioned lack of train­ing and I think an unearned sense of arro­gance and enti­tle­ment.

side4Here’s a depress­ing exer­cise for you: name ten peo­ple work­ing in videogame jour­nal­ism today that both have a jour­nal­is­tic degree (or rel­e­vant equiv­a­lent) and could be said to uphold the SJP code of ethics. Steven Totillo, EiC of Kotaku, has a Masters in Journalism but he seems to have no prob­lem print­ing unver­i­fied, fake, even libelous con­tent and has expressed com­plete con­tempt for the idea of try­ing to reject bias and clear up per­sonal con­flicts of inter­est. Erik Cain is a man who I think upholds the eth­i­cal side of jour­nal­ism very well, but he has no for­mal jour­nal­ism train­ing. The only per­son who I could say with some cer­tainty has upheld both would be Alistair Pinsof. He pretty much got run out of town by his fel­low jour­nal­ists and is now even more of a pariah for repeat­edly blow­ing the whistle on instances of alleged impro­pri­ety. He is no longer a game jour­nal­ist and as one of the few to come into the field from out­side with a real degree, that’s sad­den­ing. The envi­ron­ment seems actively hos­tile to jour­nal­ists and actual jour­nal­is­tic work. For the record I think Pinsof did the right thing in the Chloe Segal case; out­ing her trans sta­tus was an inte­gral part of expos­ing her fraud. It’s a sad indict­ment of Destructoid they put sen­si­tiv­ity before expos­ing a bla­tant case of mis­ap­pro­pri­at­ing funds. But hey, as the owner of Destructoid said “Nowhere On My Site Does It Say We Are Journalists.” I sup­pose all those press passes were handed out in error then?

So we find our­selves in a posi­tion where most of those who cover games could not be described as “jour­nal­ists” with a straight face. Maybe the prob­lem was that Game Journalism never really existed in the first place. But then why did peo­ple self-label as jour­nal­ists? Well apart from work­ing to seem more qual­i­fied and impor­tant than they are. How can we have a gam­ing press with­out qual­i­fied and pro­fes­sional jour­nal­ists? I think the answer is we can’t and we don’t.

I may not be a game jour­nal­ist.

But nei­ther are they.

Continued in Part 2: Business 101

Visit the the Parts Index


https://supernerdland.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Header-DoGJ-1.pnghttps://supernerdland.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Header-DoGJ-1-150x150.pngJohn SweeneyEditorialBlogger,Death of Games Journalism,Editorial,Gaming,Journalism,JournalistPart One of A multi-part series, visit the parts index Games Journalism is dead. Or at least games jour­nal­ism in its cur­rent form is dead. From my per­spec­tive, there is no growth left in the “tra­di­tional” model of games writ­ing. But the ques­tion is “Who killed Games Journalism?” And the answer is…
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John Sweeney
John Sweeney is a ter­ri­bly British man with a back­ground in engi­neer­ing. He writes long-form edi­to­rial con­tent with analy­sis of gam­ing, games media and inter­net cul­ture. He also does the occa­sional video game ret­ro­spec­tive with a weekly column about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good mea­sure. He also does most of our inter­views for some rea­son, we have no idea why. A staunch sup­porter of free speech and con­sumer rights; skep­ti­cal of agenda dri­ven media and sus­pi­cious of unac­cou­table author­ity but always hope­ful for change.