Why I don’t call myself a games journalist anymore

The original version of this article was much longer, but I don’t think anyone wants to read a preachy diatribe (this is still pretty preachy though).

Over the last few weeks things have been tough for video game journalists and video game developers. A loss of confidence in games journalism, given the circumstances, is understandable.

With the Internet calling out both sides on their lack of objectivity, here’s a few tips for anyone out there involved in reporting on games.

Journalist first, games journalist second

Video games make up a big part of my life, but I’ve stopped calling myself a games journalist.

When you do games journalism you’re involved in a beat, but in order to do that job well you need a base of news reporting. Working at a newspaper even as a volunteer or a freelancer can give you the real experience of writing the news as it happens.

It helps make you more well rounded and gives you a perspective outside of the video game journalism niche. As a games journalist you talk to gamers, game developers, and public relations. As a journalist, let’s take my experience as an example, I’ve spoken to Japanese Canadian Olympians, politicians, architects, doctors, and World War 2 veterans.

As a managing editor of a small newspaper and someone who is extremely aware of the journalism job market in Toronto and beyond I also know how hard it is out there. When you start looking there simply aren’t any jobs out there for people who solely write video game news.

In other words, I’m a journalist who just so happens to write about video games on the side.

Objectivity, what is it exactly?

Objectivity in journalism is often mistaken for simply being unbiased in your reporting. While some of that is true, the term objectivity was first used  as a means to discuss how journalists need a common method to verify facts in order to report the truth.

From the American Press Institute, an account of associate editor of the New York World Walter Lippmann’s view on objectivity:

The solution, Lippmann argued, was for journalists to acquire more of “the scientific spirit … There is but one kind of unity possible in a world as diverse as ours. It is unity of method, rather than aim; the unity of disciplined experiment.” Lippmann meant by this that journalism should aspire to “a common intellectual method and a common area of valid fact.”

To begin, Lippmann thought, the fledgling field of journalist education should be transformed from “trade schools designed to fit men for higher salaries in the existing structure.” Instead, the field should make its cornerstone the study of evidence and verification.

Although this was an era of faith in science, Lippmann had few illusions. “It does not matter that the news is not susceptible to mathematical statement. In fact, just because news is complex and slippery, good reporting requires the exercise of the highest scientific virtues.”

In the original concept, in other words, the method is objective, not the journalist. The key was in the discipline of the craft, not the aim.

Checking your facts, speaking to more than just one person, corroborating your story with others, doing research, and not taking the truth at face value are all part of ensuring your reporting is objective, but the scientific method often associated with genuine journalist objectivity is usually a bit nebulous.

Video game journalism is in a tight spot because the review is at its core. The review is inherently biased in that your opinion is at center stage and for young, inexperienced journalists often emotion will play a part in how they judge games. Is the game developer struggling? Would you review help them? Have they lavished you with free stuff? Are you able to report on the game if a friend is working at their company?

It’s questions like these that are often part of the scientific method behind objective reporting. Begin with questioning yourself and your connections, and from that the truth will follow.

PR, Journalists, and Developers are all vampires

One often forgotten aspect of vampires is that they can only come into your house if you invite them in, but, nevertheless, they often find a way to sneak inside.

Seduction is usually their method and public relation officials, journalists, and game developers often use the same methods to get results.

The trick is to let them in, but only into your coffee room.

Keeping a professional distance from anyone involved in the news is the only way to achieve results in your work. Being nice to people is one thing, but being too nice to people in order to get that once-in-a-lifetime article or that really good review that’ll send your game rocketing up the charts is something both sides have to worry about. There are ethical boundaries to think about and when broken they result in the shitstorm the community is currently going through.

This distance mentioned beforehand also extends into the business world. There have been times while running a small newspaper where I’ve run into problems due to a promise made or a friendship forged where feelings end up being hurt and bridges burnt. It’s always because of a lack of distance between the two sides and I’ve become pretty good at keeping people at a distance (not wearing deodorant helps too).

Games journalism is in a tough spot because so much coverage is only online and relies on social media to get the word out. It requires journalists and game developers to nurture online relationships with people to spread the good news, but it becomes a problem when you let the vampires into your bedroom.

Next steps

Well that’s about all I have to say in this article.

A bit dry compared to my original thoughts, but it’s a balanced account of what I’ve learnt going from being a games journalist to a journalist journalist. I think it’s an important for anyone identifying as a games journalist to gain some perspective about what it means to work in the profession.

There are a lot of green journalists out there, myself included, but there’s a whole world out there that needs to be reported on. Video games are great, but so too are the people and events in other areas of the world that need their stories told.

However, if you’re dead set on writing about games then try to take new and interesting angles on your coverage. If you’re doing a story on a fire fighting simulator, why not find a fireman and sit him or her down to get their perspective on the game? There’s a whole world out there of people you can speak to and if you’re a real journalist you’ll put in the effort to find stories, research you facts, question yourself, and do a damn fine job.

Omake:

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2 thoughts on “Why I don’t call myself a games journalist anymore

  1. Great article Matt. It’s tough for everyone in the industry right now it seems, I almost wished I had a job that wasn’t so focused on personality and expression, but then again the satisfaction when it does go right is just so great. We just have to keep fighting for what’s good I suppose. Rock on.

    • It is a tough time, but soldiering on, at least in the journalism side, is problematic. People really need to take a step back and get some perspective on what it means to be a journalist outside of the context of video game reporting. It’s important to write about games, but without experience dealing with some of the more problematic ethical dilemmas you run into while in a newsroom solely reporting on them can leave you unprepared for what’s out there.

      Video games are a great beat because it’s so filled with artistic and expressive people, but at the same time lots of them are really, really young and so too are the people who report on their stories. Some websites straddle the line between blogging and journalism, which can also be a problem. We don’t need rules to be set down, young games journalists just need to be journalists for a bit.

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