In the great, wide world of journalism, games journalism is a weird animal. Those who “practice” – and practice it well – face a barrage of PR perks, free trips, and angry houses. Access is given and taken away by marketing folks on a whim. There are a few great news sources (Polygon is one as is Rock, Paper, Shotgun), a few silly ones, and a few horrible ones. But on the whole, not many folks think much about the business of writing about games. Yet, if we’re culturally current, we consume quite a bit of games writing and, sadly, that writing is often compromised by the broken PR system.
This came to a head, sadly, when Rab Florence, a writer with Eurogamer, resigned after calling out the industry, including presenter and journalist Geoff Keighley (see him here), a writer who posed himself next to a pile of Doritos and a garish Xbox display. Florence went on to talk about journalists who tweeted out in line with various brands in order to win a PS3 including Lauren Wainright, a “games consultant” and writer. Florence wrote in his post:
Now arguably this is conjecture, but as John Walker writes: “He pointed out that when someone vociferously defends a journalist’s right to advertise a game for personal gain, and also has her Twitter homepage emblazoned in images from the forthcoming Tomb Raider game, it could make others ask questions.” I bristle at anyone calling a journalist unethical – it’s an affront to all we’ve worked for in blogging – but being a games consultant and blogger raises questions. Perhaps she was doing someone in PR a favor. Perhaps she loves Tomb Raider. Perhaps it doesn’t matter.
Allegedly, Wainright’s EIC contacted Eurogamer to ask that the post be toned down because it bordered on libel. Wainwright’s editor-in-chief claims there was no legal action suggested, the charge of libel holds grave import in the UK and, as a result, Eurogamer caved, gutted the piece, and posted their apology.
Florence quit over the imbroglio.
Sadly, all of this discussion of libel clouds Florence’s real message, which is as concise and clear as any newspaper’s ethics statement. He writes about the awards show, the GMAs, where Keighley sat next to the Doritos, which is a back-slapping, swag-happy outing for games journalists and their handlers:
The problem here, and I believe it has petered-out slightly in “gadgets journalism” of which I’ve been a long-time practitioner (or maybe I just refuse to go to events anymore), is that this buddy-buddy, gone native approach to journalism sours the whole thing in many industries. In games journalism when every new title gets 8 out of 10 because, if it doesn’t, the marketing people won’t invite folks to the next great outing to Germany where they can retrace the steps of the in-game characters (that, details omitted, happened), then we’re no longer talking about game journalism, we’re talking about folks who like frequent flier miles.
This comes up a lot for me in watch writing as well which is another industry slowly beginning to understand electronic media. I run a podcast and a website but I rarely, if ever, go to industry events and at this point in the game I’m very picky about which watches I’ll review and return. However, in order to appease the mercurial Sun Kings of watch and games and (less so) gadget journalism, writers must bow and scrape to get access, screenshots, and product. Game journalism in particular is all about digital so journalists at “smaller” sites may feel that they need to be as friendly as possible just to get an E3 appointment.
The line between “consultant,” “journalist,” and “blogger” is very thin. A blogger has to figure out creative ways of making good content alongside good money and sometimes that involves showing up at bogus awards ceremonies or taking PS3s. I feel lucky that our team has been able to move past this awkward adolescent stage of blogging and into a more mature, measured approach (although you guys will continue to say that we’re being paid by Apple or Google or Microsoft (we aren’t (in cash (but we are paid in ponies (and airplanes)))), and although one of our interns, not long ago, was a yutz). I like to say we afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. While this noble phrase seems wasted on a site that covers business news and startups, I’d far prefer to see a small founder in an out-of-the-way market happy that someone, somewhere, actually cares about the thing they’re passionate about than seeing a PR person whistle merrily as he racks up another tweet.