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?
As I said on twitter. Have (quite shamefully) missed this entire saga as it played out, so first of all I’m just going to say thanks for highlighting it to me.
It is a sorry state of affairs when a journo will compromise their integrity for the sake of a quick pay-off or to stay in the good books of those with the big-money. Some might say it is a product of the “dog-eat-dog” world which games journos (and, admittedly, journos in general (and, admittedly, the rest of the freaking world (time to end this parentheses))) have to operate in. I believe this is a sorry excuse, and am glad to see that the majority of those writers who I respect have the intestinal fortitude to resist such temptation.
I’m a very small minnow in a very large pond when it comes to games reviews, but I’d like to think that I would show the same constitution if I came up against the same situation.
Such timing, Lewis! Meho has his own perspective on this issue coming shortly. There’s a lot of blame to go around, and really no silver lining to be seen in this story.
With that in mind, please be advised that I will be going through your old articles and removing all references to Guild Wars 2. I can’t remember if you said anything critical about it here, but Tap-Repeatedly can’t afford a confrontation with ArenaNet’s lawyers.
Similarly, I will be visiting the posts of all Tap writers and removing all references to all games and other media. Better safe than sorry.
I thought I would make an appearance, considering I was so enraged by the topic earlier today 🙂 Please feel free to edit my work 😉
Heh, but the really painful point to be made here is that this was essentially a family fight: journos doubting journos’ honesty, journos threatening to sue, journos responding by censoring the disputed content. It’s like when those pirates from Asterix fight among themselves in one episode, sink their own ship and theor captain says “Whoa, boys, this is terrible, we don’t even need those Gauls any more to look ridiculous”.
Oh, and also, Tom Bramwell published his sort-of explanation on Eurogamer: http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2012-10-30-editors-blog-lost-humanity-18-aftermath
I’d say bravo for the emotional content but to me this is still a demonstration of a decidedly sheepish attitude in gaming journalism. Then again, what the fuck do I know, I have never been a games journalist or had a job worth keeping…
I really respect Bramwell for being frank and honest in that blog. The threat of legal action carries with it an implicit financial threat even if you do win, and I believe him when he says that the decision was based on advice from legal counsel. He did what he did because he felt it was the safer course of action, but based on his post I at least sense that he didn’t necessarily believe it was the right one. It’s easy to argue that the right course is always the right course, but… well, sometimes safety wins the day.
We’re not Eurogamer, which is part of the reason we’re able to get away with some of the more blunt stuff we do. I suppose if someone came along and threatened to sue us – hell, everything Gregg writes is probably actionable, and don’t get me started on Dix – I would find myself in a similar situation, if on a smaller scale. Better to be safe, or potentially sorry? I can’t honestly say I know which path I’d take, but like Bramwell I’d consult with legal experts and at least consider the safe path.
As Meho points out in his own piece on this, however, that’s the action and the role of an editor: to edit. To note potential issues and make sure there’s ample evidence to back up any claims.
Honestly what little I know of this stuff suggests that Lauren Wainwright – the journalist who threatened legal action – doesn’t actually have much of a leg to stand on (though British libel laws may be different). Moreover, I can’t imagine an individual journalist having the same level of legal firepower that Eurogamer does. Thus Eurogamer’s move seems to me to be a bit of an overreaction.
Regardless, I think Tom Bramwell did a brave thing with this post and honesty is always appreciated.
Steerpike, British libel laws are different. The burden of proof is on Eurogamer, from the Penny Arcade piece:
“In English courts the presumption is that the defendant carries the burden of proof, meaning that the assumption is that the statements described as libelous are assumed to be incorrect. In 2010 the Speech Act was passed to protect the American press against threats of libel in England. Before that year, Wainwright could have threatened to sue Penny Arcade, due to the fact the website can be read in countries with problematic laws against libel.”
Rab also wants the anger directed away from Eurogamer AND Wainwright towards those who are “still controlling the narrative”, suggesting that Wainwright was coaxed into the action which helpfully deflects attention away from PR outfits.
I don’t have a dog in this fight, but it seems to me that the thing which deserves the most scrutiny is the overwhelming negative reaction Eurogamer received itself. Are people outraged because of righteous indignation, or because they’ve been rightly called out and don’t like the heat?
“…and don’t get me started on Dix…”
I try to only commit libel against fictional characters. I was thinking of reviewing [REDACTED], but I thought it was really [REDACTED] and you probably should [REDACTED] buy it.
Seriously though, this has always been something I’ve been vaguely uncomfortable with about game journalism, certainly, and a large part of the reason I don’t think I’d be cut out to make a career of it. I don’t like putting stuff out there that I don’t feel is quite true or the whole story, and if I know I have little nice to say I take the approach of not saying anything at all. That’s a luxury we have here, I suppose, of being able to sing the praises of things we like without having to say anything of things we don’t if we don’t want to.
I also know, now more than ever, that as I have an increasing number of personal friends in the game industry, there would be more and more games I wouldn’t feel comfortable reviewing, regardless of my feelings toward them. I’d like to think I could remain objective if I found myself in that position, with a paycheck on the line, say, but I’d just as soon not go there at all.
[…] like writing about that right now has become a mandatory part of the conversation. Fortunately, individual contributors have already weighed in on their side, so I feel I can make my own response a little more […]