4comments We're sorry, CliffyB
Posted Thu 10th Jun 2010 4:14am by Dennis Scimeca
If I make a mistake and reference a misquote that I pulled from someone else who pulled it from someone else, does that make me a tabloid journalist? Well, tabloid blogger?
I've been a "journalist" three times in my life:
1) When I went to Boston Post-Mortem on May 6th
2) When I covered Games Accessibility Day
3) When I attended a Harvard university lecture on Evolutionary Biology and Video Games
Those were instances where my feet hit the ground and I actually, you know, went out and reported on something. I keep my eyes out for other opportunities to be a proper journalist, but most of the time all I have are the "facts" I get from the websites who have the access I don't, which I then turn into editorials; and most of those facts are press releases and other PR hype.
Boston-based games reviewer Mitch Krpata pointed this out when he addressed the games journalism panel at PAX East. To roughly paraphrase (sorry, Mitch, I wasn't carrying my digital audio recorder at the time - here I am being a tabloid journalist again), Mitch asked about the value for the gaming community of publishing news which sounded like the news outlets were unofficial PR wings of the various gaming companies.
Chris Grant's response, again to paraphrase, was that news doesn't really happen in the gaming industry, and he's right. The only gaming "news" I've seen since I started writing about games was the West/Zampella drama and Bungie's Activision deal. The rest of the content on all the major sites is "Game info, trailer, screenshot, editorials." We're left with PR translations and people's opinions to fill the gaps.
Anyone who wants to write about games, but who doesn't have the experience to attract the attention of the editors of those major games publications through a robust portfolio of clips, really only has two choices: blog, or work for the indie gaming press.
Pitching the majors in the hopes of getting that first, paid, published piece is part of the struggle; but I can't imagine, when I've pitched The Escapist, just HOW many people I'm competing with to get that pitch accepted, and I refuse to just pitch them on every topic they proffer through the editorial calendar. If I don't really have something to say, I'm not wasting their time or mine.
I can submit articles to Bitmob, which is a nice validation when work is promoted to the front page, or blog over on Destructoid in the hopes of the audience finding me amusing, but if I really want a chance to be a video game journalist, I need to turn to the indie press. That's the only way I'm getting into E3. It also got me into Games Accessibility Day, and will get me into other Boston games-related events that would otherwise cost me a registration fee that can run into the hundreds of dollars.
Some of the indie reporters seem as good as anyone in the majors. I met Meghan Ventura at the PlayStation Community Meet-up before PAX East. She's a writer at the indie site Mygamer, and publishes over at Bitmob pretty frequently. Here's something she got published on the Bitmob front page today. Read that article and tell me it isn't as good as most of the stuff we read on Kotaku, or Joystiq, or GameSpot. Hell, I think Meghan's piece there would feel right at home on GamePro or The Escapist, sources I usually think about as having more substantive content than the other three sites I just mentioned.
I'm sure that she, like me, would love to be a paid video game journalist, working for an established media entity, bound by the strictest of journalistic ethics, adherence to the AP stylebook, and under the thumb of a harshly critical Editor. Seeking out stories and doing "old fashioned journalism." Traveling to E3 on someone's dime rather than our own (if you're going, Meghan), getting PR companies to seek me out for interviews and previews. It's the same dream that hundreds if not thousands of gamers have, many of whom might actually have legitimate talent...but where do we go if we can't get the majors to look at our pitches for getting lost in the crowd?
When I met Stephen Totilo at PAX East, I was just starting off this journey and asking everyone I could meet for advice. He told me that I should find local media that doesn't cover games and convince them why they should.
I tried, Stephen, but it's either taken already, or they don't care.
The Boston Herald publishes game reviews, but it's only online for 14 days and then hits a pay filter. The Boston Phoenix publishes reviews and has a blogger who talks about games sometimes. The Boston Globe could care less about video games. The Weekly Dig is a small paper who publishes very short reviews that are more snark commentary than the games writing we expect. The daily Metro publishes a game review once a week, I'm told. I rode the subway for years before I moved into the burbs and started driving the commute, and damned if I ever saw a video game review in the free paper I grabbed every day to make the subway ride bearable.
That's it. There are no other Boston media outlets to hit. Three of them cover reviews, but they don't discuss the gaming industry, not really. Not in the way one might expect video game "journalists" to do. The mainstream press just doesn't give a shit. They cover television and film, but they don't cover a form of entertainment which we realize is not only competitive with those forms of entertainment, but which by some measures is actually winning. Gaming is as or more relevant than t.v. and movies to my generation and the generations those that followed...and now that writing about games actually seems legitimate to so many of us, we want the job.
Can't have it in the gaming press. Can't have in the mainstream press. No choice but to go indie.
The major gaming sites have access: previews, first looks, relationships with the developers and the right phone numbers to call for interviews. I'm not complaining. I wouldn't expect indie gaming sites to have access to all of this any more than I'd expect the indie press to have access to the White House. The pros get the access because they've worked hard for it - but at least the indie press, magazines like the Boston Phoenix here at home, they have communities to cover. What the hell is the indie GAMING press supposed to do?
Many of us have no choice but to be tertiary sources much of the time. Either that, or I suppose we could let the pages go blank for a while...but clearly there's a hunger out there to not only report the gaming news, but also to see different kinds of gaming news than the majors provide us. I think it's fair to say that if all these indie sites didn't get readers they wouldn't bother wasting their time, and if PR companies didn't think that these sites had value, E3 wouldn't be letting us into the party.
The majors have all that access to fill space, and then editorials do the rest. The indie sites have a lot more space to fill, so of course when one of the only bona fide celebrities in gaming, the self-styled Tony Stark of game development, is quoted as saying something juicy, we're going to jump all over it. For better or worse, that's news in the gaming world.
I was tweeting with Jim Sterling today about all of this, because he had some pretty strong opinions about CliffyB's "tabloid journalism" comment. I suggested to Jim that maybe the gaming press needs to sneak some mature coverage into their content to try and lift up gaming journalism as a whole, covering things like Games Accessibility Day or that lecture over at Harvard.
Jim responded "It's a fair point, but the budget to go cover those events versus the lack of reader interest doesn't always work out well." I think it might be a chicken or the egg scenario, personally. At Game Kudos the Director and I are determined to sneak substantive discussion and news stories in with the more typically-expected coverage, because we both get bored with the majors sometimes. I don't blame the majors for being who they are, they need to protect their access the same way that the mainstream press needs to protect theirs and thus isn't harshly critical of political administrations...but we saw what happened in the the U.S. during the run-up to the Iraq War. They may as well have been fucking cheerleaders. Fourth estate FTW.
If we can't expect "real" journalism from the mainstream press, what the hell makes us think that we're going to get it from indie gaming press sites?
I don't know what this "change" is in gaming journalism that I read is supposed to be coming. I do feel that we're in a horrible in-between place regarding video games and journalism. All the owners of the mainstream press must not understand the cultural importance of our medium. All these producers and Editors in Chief are just old, and behind the times, and we have to wait for them to retire or die and make room for the Gen-X'ers and following generations to take the driver's seats.
Maybe when that happens and society at large has accepted us, and the breadth of our discourse is wide enough to create the critical language we're waiting for, the sort of quality we read on Edge will be the norm and not the exception, and the results will trickle down to the level of the indie sites.
Until then...I'm not making excuses for misquotes due to "technical errors." That kind of shit is certainly preventable, but XBox 360 World Magazine apologized. They copped to their error, so I don't see why they deserve to get lashed out at as "tabloid journalists" when they didn't even get the chance at that point to admit making the mistake.
Yes, apparently being a celebrity sucks sometimes, and I don't think that's why CliffyB got into the industry; and I've read way too much about how awesome he is to the fans, helping people get jobs in the industry, for example. I personally have a soft spot for him because he's from Massachusetts and is an inspirational example, but I honestly don't think he was trying to be a dick. He was just frustrated. I understand...
...but cut the indie press a break, Cliffy. You've made it. We're still fighting to get there.
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