The internet is a funny beast, no better demonstrated than the fallout from the Robert Florence/Eurogamer saga. What’s amusing about all this isn’t the fact that Robert dared to question journalistic integrity versus public relations, but the fact that one individual (and no doubt a collective behind said individual) chose to take it upon themselves to censor a fellow colleague, in an effort to save face – coming off worse in the process.
The fallout from such a decision is well documented and I won’t repeat what has been written so eloquently by others and yet what startles is the fact that it has taken a scenario such as the one played out for people to publicly denounce the relationship journalists, publishers and public relationship firms share.
I don’t believe it is a secret that I have very little appreciation for public relationship firms. Although I’ve worked with many, I’ve also had my fare share of run-ins with those who have sought to manipulate my opinion prior to any relationship forming. While this would have undoubtedly been beneficial to my fledgling career (to toe the line) there comes a time where compromise simply isn’t an option.
As writers we have a duty of care to those who read our words that they are safe in the knowledge that what we write is honest, open and impartial. To muddy the water in any way brings into question the reliability of those words and whether the opinion shared is really ours or our pay masters.
I’m fortunate in the creative freedom afforded to me by my current employer and although compensated for my time writing about Guild Wars 2 (through the Ten Ton Hammer network) I would like to think that despite loving the video game and its developer I am a reliable source of critique and opinion, through my willingness to criticise much more than ArenaNet and my employer might like.
This objectivity can only be lead from the individual and as tempting as it has been to skirt around the truth in order to keep opinions neutral or favourable (in order to keep developer, publisher and PR on side) it can only be seen as slippery slope that has repercussions for you and your integrity as well as the website or publication you represent.
Unfortunately and due to the nature of the games industry, the continued pursuit for exclusive interviews, reviews and previews – to be first through the gate, in order to receive traffic – is the life blood of what allows these websites to sustain themselves. Without advertising revenue many of these sites would not exist. Don’t bite the hand that feeds is never more appropriate and yet when you have publishers such as EA refusing to provide leading platform websites such as Rock, Paper, Shotgun with their latest release (unquestionably because they knew it would review poorly) it only sends out one message: “We aren’t giving you a free game because you’ll review it with a shit score. Out of spite, you can go and pay for it yourself”.
Publishers and public relationship firms hold the purse strings safe in the knowledge that small websites (RPS certainly isn’t one) with little or no revenue cannot afford to purchase every single new release, instantly creating an imbalance in the favour of the supplier. A supply the recipient is tentative to upset.
If we’re to ever break this poisonous cycle, readers need to be willing to seek out independent sites away from the dross of IGN, Kotaku and Gamespot to stand a better chance of journalistic independence, because when it comes to individuals potentially parting with their money, on your words, what could be more important that being honest, open and impartial?