For the past week, there has been intensifying interest in the ethics of games journalism. This was prompted by a screencap that made the rounds featuring GTTV host Geoff Keighley giving interviews while flanked by Pepsi and Mountain Dew as well as by a column on Eurogamer by comedian and critic Robert Florence that critiqued both that image and an incident that appeared to involve games reporters vying for free PlayStation 3s through a Twitter contest.
Florence's criticism, about what he perceives as the too-close relationship between the video game publicity machine and a gaming press that should be operating independent of it and its temptations, was briskly displaced by Eurogamer's surprising editing of Florence's column, removing public Tweets and some commentary apparently at the behest of a gaming reporter who Florence mentioned and out of concern of a possible libel suit. Florence quit his column, Eurogamer apologized and the reporter who Eurogamer says raised the complaint, Lauren Wainwright, was attacked on Twitter, all the while striking a reference to consulting work she had done on Twitter from her resume.
All of this could have been reported on Kotaku last Wednesday, but under my direction we did not. On Saturday, when a reader asked why and as other readers began suggesting it was because we were afraid coverage would implicate us and expose our own supposed ethical compromises I dismissed the entire affair as "not important" and the same old "tired nonsense." The story would interest me more, I noted, if, through the process of reporting, we could ascertain if there really was a legal threat by one reporter to another outlet that chilled speech (the details there remain unclear because, while Florence and his Eurogamer editor have told their side of the story, Wainwright has not).
My words were careless. I'm proud of the ethical standards we maintain at Kotaku and enjoy the luxury we've earned through our size and the backing of our parent company to cover games in ways that may upset game publishers without worrying that it will prevent us from serving our readers well or causing us relevant financial troubles (our publisher quite enjoys when his reporters rock the boats helmed by the captains of the industries they cover and puts editorial ahead of advertising). This is why I rolled my eyes at what seemed to be another ethical breach. Oh, that again? Do we get to have another endless discussion about how all gaming reporters must be corrupt in some way? My kneejerk reaction was to not care enough, because I've traditionally viewed many a game journalist's seemingly incessant desire to discuss games journalism as an impediment to actually just doing games journalism. I err on the side of under-doing media reporting-and this is from someone who did plenty of it for a now-shuttered magazine that was dedicated to doing just that. But if this was a conversation that I considered to be old, I failed to appreciate that there were readers who felt that the topic was not just relevant but crucial. They-perhaps, you-either want to believe their game journalists or see them exposed. And, fairly, they don't want to see that desire dismissed as a trifle, as something "not important."
In the days that followed my "not important" line was snarkily contrasted with other stories we've run that, it was inferred, had been deemed more important than the exploring the values of good journalism. I failed to appreciate how that one comment would be used to demean our other work and how willingly some critics would ignore the strong and often skeptical reporting efforts put forth by the Kotaku team on myriad gaming topics. When I wasn't playing Assassin's Creed III this weekend, I was discussing and arguing with the users of the NeoGAF forum. Some simply chastised me for my dismissal of the story. Some decided it was evidence of Kotaku's own complicity. As the discussion unfolded, I encountered those who were so wary of the influence of gaming publisher public relations that they could not accept the news value in showing readers the contents of a $100 version of Halo 4 or the finish on a special Halo version of the Xbox 360 through an unboxing video-to help readers know whether it was worth springing money on these things-if those very things being shown were mailed, unsolicited by the Halo PR team and if the showing of them would dovetail with PR's agenda to help market the game. A reasonable difference of opinion there. I also encountered the flat-Earth theories that Kotaku is toothless and only picks on those who are not rich or powerful enough to hit us back. Any reader of our site who has seen the full sweep of our coverage of major game publishers and platform holders might very well dismiss those views as the tired nonsense that they are. I suspect our legal team, superb defenders of all of Gawker Media's sites from the rich and offended, would concur.
My discussion on NeoGAF as well as on Twitter and in Kotaku's own comments convinced me that there was something to be written and reported, not just belatedly about the Florence-Wainwright flap, but about the larger issues of distrust and skepticism that some readers have of the gaming press. The most shrill critics can never be satisfied, but there are enough honest concerns and earnest questions that some reporting and some insight by and from Kotaku-by and from me-is in order. I said as much on Sunday in the comments in Kotaku.
This lengthy note here is not the coverage I promised. This is just a post to signal to readers that a story is still forthcoming. It was, like many things this week, affected by natural disaster, one that has knocked down Kotaku's (and my) home city and that has knocked our website out for an unprecedented number of days (hence the Kotumblr you're on now). While we are trying to publish here with a business-as-usual level of authority and passion, a reported story about the breadth of games journalism issues that have been discussed this past week merits being posted on our own website, where reader feedback is possible in the comments and where visibility of the story will be maximized. And, on a more human level, stranded at home, working with intermittent Internet for a couple of days, I simply haven't had the time to collect and consider all the results of my reporting, round up all the links I want to point to and, bottom line, do this story right.
So, again, this is not what was promised. But I thought all readers deserved an explanation about why Kotaku, traditionally a leader in games reporting, has been mum on this topic for nearly a week. Blame Sandy. Blame me. It doesn't matter. I look forward to covering this important story in the days to come.
- Stephen Totilo, Editor-in-Chief