The relevant portions of the Internet blew up a little bit today over an article that pointed to noted games journalist Geoff Keighley, using an out-of-context photo of him speaking next to a big ad for Halo 4 on one side, a pile of Mountain Dew and Doritos on the other.
The purpose of Rab Florence’s article in Eurogamer, which can be read here, was to point out the troubling relationship much of the gaming press has with the gaming industry. Journalists and PR folks are friends, he notes, and there are plenty in our industry that look like shills for their’s. And this is fundamentally at odds with what your job is supposed to be whenever you practice journalism. It’s akin to fraternizing with the enemy.
I can’t say Florence is wrong, and there was a time when I would have argued just as vehemently the points that he presents in his article. Having worked in this industry for a while, however, I’ve come to be a little more lax in my position on the matter. Much of what makes up the “games journalism industry” isn’t journalism, and to treat it as such, to judge it as such, and to wring your hands over it as such, is a waste of time.
Much of the gaming press is actually the gaming enthusiast press, and it operates in exactly the way you’d expect fans to operate. They’re excited about games. They gush over them. They obligingly ask developers softball questions about how awesome their games are and return that information to their readership, who gush over the games equally. They gather up their free crap and even crow about it publicly, having no idea just how problematic accepting such crap really is. At no point is it journalism, even if it apes journalism in its approach.
Then there’s the actual journalism — harder-hitting or more personal interviews, stories that include actual research, critical analysis that is both, you know, critical and analytic, dealing with games as a medium for expression less than as a pile of entertainment waiting to be bought and consumed. And here’s the thing: the two are easily discernible at all but the most extreme distances.
And so this is where I think Florence’s point breaks down, and why I can’t get that upset over Keighley standing next to junk food like a lame spokesman. Much of the gaming press is made up of non-journalists. If you’re looking to them and surprised by their actions, by the way they accept swag and wear t-shirts bearing game logos to speak with those games’ developers, then you clearly don’t know what it is you’re seeing: fans. Those people are fans. Published fans, perhaps, or those more visible than others. But fans nonetheless.
Journalists don’t do that. They dress professionally. They make phone calls. They do research. They conduct interviews. They understand and respect ethics. They seek truth. And they are not friends with PR people, because the business of public relations is to obscure truth in favor of a positive image. The two are diametrically opposed and cannot be friends.
So if you are friends with PR folks in a way that skews more professional than personal, you’re probably not a journalist. That’s okay — your viewpoint is still valid, you still have interesting things to say about video games, and you can still contribute. But it’s probably best that we as an industry start to acknowledge what we are, for the sake of the readership. And readers need to drop the gasp-hand-to-mouth Why I Never routine, and stop using things like reviews from the enthusiast press to make their financial decisions, only to get pissed about it afterward. As a reader, it’s your responsibility to pay enough attention to find trustworthy journalism and consume it, not subscribe to garbage and then complain when it starts to smell. I’d get more upset if it weren’t just so obvious.
So … yeah, don’t care about the so-called “games journalists” who clearly aren’t*. That’s not to say I care nothing of ethics, or integrity. In fact, I care about these things a great deal. But I’ve given up trying to preach them, or to waste time caring about the people who are obviously at the least suspect and, at the most, corrupt. I don’t read their work. You shouldn’t either. It’s up to you to be discerning and avoid letting people run the game on you.
There’s great games journalism out there and if you’re missing it, then I feel sorry for you. There are plenty of extremely trustworthy and intelligent games journalists literally all over the place, a lot of them looking for jobs. If you’re unaware of them, I’d advise you to pay attention to more bylines as you’re reading, and to exercise the power of social media like Facebook and Twitter to seek them out and connect with them. And maybe look around the Internet a little more, rather than sticking around the same disappointing sites that you love to complain about in their own comments. Crappy work by crappy “journalists” is really easy to spot, and once you’ve identified it, it’s time to start ignoring it.
But good work speaks for itself, and it does so very, very loudly.
*Point of clarification: I’m doing my best to avoid any sort of insinuation that I may fall into either category. I do the work I do, and you can judge me by that.